Four Types of Feline Allergies

Did you know that cats, even those who stay indoors, can suffer from allergies? Allergy symptoms in cats are similar to common symptoms in dogs, most commonly including red, itchy skin. You may recognize signs that are a lot like your own, too, such as sneezing or nasal discharge. You might even notice stomach upset, including vomiting or diarrhea.

While each of these could be symptoms of several sorts of conditions for your kitty, allergies are the most common cause. There are four different types of allergies that commonly affect cats.


1. Contact Allergies

While unusual, it isn't unknown for a cat to have an allergic reaction to a substance that s/he touches - like flea collars, wool, or another item. Much like when we come into contact with poison ivy, the most common reaction is skin irritation and itching or inflamation. Because contact allergies are unusual for cats, they may not be the first possible diagnosis for your cat's discomfort, and, when it is suspected, tracking down the source of your cat’s contact allergy can take time and patience. We’ll work with you, though, to find that itchy irritant so you can eliminate it from your kitty's environment.


2. Food Allergies

Like contact allergies, food allergies in cats aren't as common as some other kinds of allergies. Additionally, when they do occur, they often mirror other conditions, including contact allergies or general gastrointestinal distress. And, like contact allergies, a good diagnosis will take teamwork and time. Proteins are the most likely food allergens: beef, chicken, turkey, and, surprisingly, sometimes even fish. A special diet (feeding trial) will be part of the detective work so that you and youir cat's veterinary team can observe your cat’s condition in the absence of suspected allergen proteins.

We’ll help you create a careful plan, and you’ll need to follow it closely. Tufts University strongly cautions that a special diet should be “THE ONLY FOOD OR FLAVORED THING TO GO INTO YOUR PET’S MOUTH for at least a month but potentially several, depending on your pet’s history and type of issues.” If a suspected protein is introduced at the wrong time, the trial period will have to begin all over again -- and it could set off another reaction in your cat.


Be sure to follow food trial instructions closely


3. Flea Allergies

Flea allergies are the single most common cause of allergies in cats. It's not just run-of-the-mill, normal flea-bite itchiness that happens for cats that are allergic to fleas. For allergic cats, flea saliva can lead to incredible irritation, causing your kitty to scratch, chew, and bite herself in search of relief. The Drake Center for Veterinary Care points out that this can be more problematic than you might think if scratching and biting lead to “open sores or scabs on the skin, allowing a secondary bacterial infection to begin.”

Of course, prevention is best, and every cat should be protected against flea infestation in the first place. But if infestation does occur and your cat is diagnosed with a flea allergy, the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine notes:

the veterinarian may prescribe any of several available systemic medications, such as: an antibiotic (a substance that can inhibit or destroy the growth of invasive microorganisms); a corticosteroid (a hormone often used to moderate an immune response and reduce inflammation); or an antihistamine (which inhibits the action of the chemical agent whose production causes the release of fluids into the tissues of an affected cat that can lead to inflammation and itching).

And don’t forget, you also have to treat your home to rid your kitty’s environment of fleas, larvae, and eggs.


4. Inhalant Allergies

If you have seasonal allergies, you're probably very familiar with this type of allergy. Sadly, your kitty may be, too. Breathing in pollen, mold, dust mites, and other “inhalants” is a recognizable trigger for people with allergies, and these inhalants can be just as irritating for your cat. Unlike you, your cat probably won't react with sneezing, stuffiness and congestion. Instead, most cats with inhalant allergies react with more itchiness. Known as “atopy,” an inhalant allergy can cause skin irritation and itch in your cat -- much like the other allergies we’ve explored. (Some cats do react with sneezing and/or coughing, etc., though it isn't the norm.)

If you notice otherwise unexplained itching in your cat, particularly if it lasts for just a couple of weeks or shows up during the same season(s), your pet may be reacting to what s/he’s breathing in.


Flowers and trees can cause allergies reactions in your cat


There are options for treatments that can provide relief to your kitty. In more mild cases, we might prescribe medications to control the itch just during the seasonal window. We may dispense a shampoo that can help soothe the skin and clean pollen or other particulants off of the fur. Bear in mind that we will need to see you and your cat in the office to reassess the condition and ensure it really is allergies causing the problem, especially if the flare-ups don’t have a discernible seasonal pattern.


You may have never realized how closely allergies in cats may parallel allergies in people, and unfortunately, both felines and humans can be equally miserable when allergic reactions strike. Because pets can’t tell us exactly what they ate, touched, or inhaled before a reaction, it usually takes a close working relationship between pet parent and veterinary team to get to the bottom of things. The good news is that we’re happy to be there for you and your pets. 

Be sure to contact us if you suspect allergies in your cat.


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