When cats have an allergy they often suffer from itchy, painful skin conditions. Read below to find out how our Denver vets treat skin allergies in cats and how you can recognize the signs of an allergic reaction.
Allergy Types in Cats
If your cat is having an allergic reaction, their immune system is overreacting or is hypersensitive to a particular substance. Substances that cause allergic reactions are called an allergen. Some common allergens in humans include food, pollen and mould.
An allergic reaction to a substance can lead to 3 general types of symptoms:
- Respiratory - Coughing, sneezing, wheezing and other respiratory issues including discharge from the nose or eyes.
- Skin - Itching of the skin, either in a specific spot or more generalized all over your cat's body.
- Gastrointestinal - The third manifestation involves the digestive system and can result in vomiting, flatulence, and/or diarrhea.
All of these different reactions are caused by many types of allergens, like parasites that live in or on the cat's body. Allergens that cause a reaction upon contact, compared to those that are ingested or inhaled are all equally harmful.
Read below to learn the different causes of skin allergies in cats, the associated symptoms and how they can be treated.
Cat Allergies: Treatment and Causes
For skin allergies in cats, the allergen causing the condition will either be parasites, food allergies, or environmental allergies. Look around your home to see if you can identify any of the following items.
Unlike you may have thought, not all cats will scratch aggressively when bitten by a flea. In most cases, a flea bite is just a minor irritation for cats, unless they are allergic. If your cat happens to be allergic to the proteins or antigens in flea saliva just a single bite could lead to a severe reaction resulting in intense itching. In many cases this will cause your cat to scratch relentlessly or chew their skin, removing large amounts of hair in the process. If your cat is allergic to flea bites you may also notice red open sores or scabs on the skin, particularly at the base of the tail. These sores need to be looked at and treated as they can result in secondary bacterial skin infections.
The best way to treat a flea allergy is to keep fleas well away from your pet and vice versa. If your pet has fleas, speak to your vet about various flea control products and how to rid your cat of fleas. Corticosteroids (cortisone or steroids) can be prescribed by your vet to help block the allergic reaction and give your cat immediate relief from itchiness. Your vet may prescribe Antibiotics if your cat has a secondary skin infection due to scratching.
When an allergen comes in direct contact with the cat's body, every cat reacts differently. Sometimes contact allergies can lead to patches of irritated skin on cats. Common contact allergens include flea collars, shampoos, and various materials that make up bedding etc. While it can be challenging to pinpoint the precise cause of your cat's allergy it's worth the effort since removing or simply not using the allergen will clear up your cat's symptoms quickly and easily.
Food Allergies in Cats
Food allergies can lead to itchy skin, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress. Common food allergies for cats include chicken, turkey, and beef. Food allergies in cats are caused by an immune reaction to an ingredient or an additive in their food. Some vegetable proteins found in commercially produced cat foods may be problematic for some cats including corn and wheat, and for other cats, food additives and preservatives can lead to an allergic response.
Typically, when cats are suspected of having a food allergy a strict elimination or hypoallergenic diet is prescribed. These diets involve feeding your cat ingredients they have never previously eaten. Sometimes this involves adding rabbit or venison and eliminating their regular food. Unless approved as part of the diet, cats should not have treats or table scraps. Elimination diets must be adhered to for 9-12 weeks to give your cat's body time to eliminate all traces of the problematic ingredient and start the recovery process.
Inhalant & Atopy Allergies
Inhalant and atopy allergies are those related to substances found in the environment such as ragweed, pollen, mould, dust mites and cigarette smoke. In cats, reactions to these allergens can include severe itching across the body. It is common for cats with these allergies to be allergic to more than one substance so it can take patience to pinpoint the precise cause. While in many cases these allergies are seasonal much like hayfever in people, in other cases, itching may be present year-round.
Treatment for these allergies largely depends on the severity of the allergy and whether it is seasonal. A hypoallergenic diet can help relieve symptoms and treatments can include:
- Corticosteroids (prednisone)
- Sprays and shampoos to improve the health of the skin
- Antigen injections/allergy shots
- Essential fatty acids/fish oils
- Immunosuppressive drug therapy
Continued Treatment for Cats with Skin Allergies
Many of the treatments for skin allergies in cats take time to take effect and are not appropriate for random or sudden flare-ups. Your vet will provide you with treatments for acute symptoms and for the long-term management of the condition.
While treatment can help to control and relieve your cat's symptoms, only preventing your cat from coming in contact with the allergen will not cure the problem. This means that while your cat may live symptom-free for long periods, symptoms will likely recur periodically. Your vet will be able to help you and your cat deal with allergic reactions whenever they appear.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.