Just like people, cats are commonly affected by allergies. An allergy occurs when a cat's immune system overacts to foreign substances or particles (called allergens).
Types of Cat Allergies
There are four types of allergies that affect cats. These include:
- Food allergies
- Airborne allergies (atopy)
- Flea allergies
- Contact allergies
Cats are not born with food allergies. It is actually more common that they develop allergies to a food they have eaten for many years. Food allergy can strike at any age and allergies usually develop to the protein component of the food. The most common food allergens are chicken, fish, corn, wheat, and soy; cats may also develop a food allergy to beef, pork, dairy products, or eggs. Cat food allergy can produce severe skin itchiness, gastrointestinal upset or respiratory allergy symptoms.
- An intensely itchy rash often develops on the head, neck, and back.
- Hair Loss
- Oozing sores from constant scratching
- Sometimes, only the ears will be involved. In those cases, the ears will be very red and inflamed and may have a moist discharge.
- Less frequently, food allergy produces diarrhea or vomiting.
WHAT TO DO:
Testing involves a "diet trial". During a "diet trial", a commercial or homemade hypoallergenic diet is fed exclusively for 8 to 12 weeks. During this time, the cat must ONLY eat the prescribed foodno table food, scraps, treats, vitamins or chewable medications can be given during a diet trial. If a positive response is seen after this trial, you will know how to proceed. Treatment is easyjust feed a diet without the allergen!
An allergy to particles the cat inhales is called atopy. This is an allergic skin reaction caused by breathing pollens, house dust, molds, and other allergens indoors or outdoors. It may or may not occur seasonally. When humans inhale these allergens they usually develop respiratory signs ("hay fever"). When cats inhale these allergens they develop severe itching of the entire body.
- Signs and symptoms vary
- Itching on the head and neck
- A rash along the neck and back
- Skin eruptions
- Symmetrical hair loss over the body caused by excessive licking and grooming
WHAT TO DO:
One of the most important treatments for atopy is to minimize the cat's exposure to things he is allergic to. For example, if a cat is allergic to pollen, he should be kept inside with the windows closed when pollen counts are high or the grass is being mowed. Air filters also help remove many airborne allergens to keep the home environment clean.
Antihistamines or corticosteroids are beneficial in relieving symptoms but do not cure the problem. Omega-3 fatty acids may also contribute to the cat's comfort and relieve some symptoms. Other treatment options are chosen based on the severity of the cat's allergy symptoms and the length of the allergy season. For example, if the cat itches a few weeks once or twice a year, shampoos and anti-inflammatory medications may help alleviate the allergy symptoms. However, if the cat itches year-round, or so severely that open sores develop, skin testing and allergy shots may be recommended.
Flea allergy is probably the most common allergy in cats. A normal cat will experience minor irritation and itching from a flea bite. A cat with flea allergy, however, will have a severe reaction to a single fleathey will often bite and break the skin and even remove large patches of their own hair. There will often be open sores or small scabs present on their skin. The most common areas of the body affected by flea allergy are the rump, head and neck.
- Frequent scratching and biting of the fur, especially on the back and rump near their tail
- Raised bumps or scabs on the skin
- Thinning fur in the affected area
WHAT TO DO:
Treatment of flea allergy includes strict flea control. Fleas can be very difficult to kill but modern flea medications and home treatment options will help you rid your home and cat of these pests.
For the cat, treatment may involve a course of antibiotics, medicated shampoo or topical medication. Antihistamines, steroid injections, or ointment may be used to control inflammation and reduce itching.
This is the least common type of allergy and is caused by something your cat comes in contact with, such as carpet, bedding (especially wool), or detergents.
- Non-seasonal itching, especially in areas where there isn't much fur such as chin, elbows, ears, toes, underbelly, etc.
- Lesions of any type, rash, blisters
- Skin redness or inflammation
WHAT TO DO:
Treatment involves identifying and removing the allergen. Corticosteroids may be prescribed to control the itch.
For additional information about allergies:
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.