Just like dogs, cats are capable of developing itchy, and even painful, skin conditions caused by allergies. Here, our Groton veterinarians explain some common causes of skin allergies in our feline friends and how they can be treated.
Types of Allergies in Cats
If your cat is suffering from an allergy, that means that their immune system is overreacting and is extra sensitive to a particular substance. Substances that cause an allergic reaction are referred to as allergens. Some common allergens in people include molds, pollen, dander and some food.
An allergic reaction to a substance can lead to 3 general types of symptoms:
- Skin - Itching of the skin, either in a specific spot or more generalized all over your cat's body.
- Respiratory - Coughing, sneezing and wheezing, and other respiratory issues including discharge from the nose or eyes.
- Gastrointestinal - The third manifestation involves the digestive system and can result in vomiting, flatulence and/or diarrhea.
These different reactions in your pet are caused by different kinds of allergens such as parasites in or on your pet's body, substances that come into contact with their skin, allergens that they ingesr and allergens that they inhale.
In today's blog, we look at different causes of skin allergies in cats, the associated symptoms and how they can be treated.
Causes of Skin Allergies in Cats & How They Are Treated
When it comes to skin allergies, the allergins causing the condition will either be parasites, food allergies, or environmental allergies.
While they aren't particularly common, contact allergies can occur in some cats, leading to patches of irritated skin wherever the allergen has rubs up against them.
Some common contact allergens can include flea collars, materials used to make bedding and some kinds of shampoos. While it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of your cat's allergy, it can be worth the effort of removing possible allergens from their reach. Often, simply not using the allergen will be enough to clear up your cat's symptoms.
Contrary to popular belief, not all cats will scratch wildly when bitten by a flea. In many cases a flea bite is just a minor irritation. But if your cat is 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 open sores or scabs on the skin, particularly at the base of the tail. These sores can result in secondary bacterial skin infections.
The best way to treat this allergy is to keep fleas well away from your pet. 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. Antibiotics may be required if your cat has a secondary skin infection due to scratching.
Food Allergies in Cats
In Cats, food allergies are usually caused by an immune system reaction to an ingredient or additive in their food. Some common food allergies can include beef, chicken and turkey. Certain vegetable proteins may also cause reactions in cats when they are found in commercially produced cat food like corn or wheat. Food allergies generally lead to digestive disorders, itchy skin and respiratory issues.
For cats suspected of having a food allergy, an elimination or hypoallergenic diet is typically prescribed. These diets involve feeding your cat a diet consisting only of ingredients they have never previously eaten such as rabbit or venison and eliminating their regular food completely. To be effective these diets must be adhered to strictly. No cat treats (unless approved as part of the diet), and no sneaking any table scraps. Elimination diets must be adhered to for between 9-12 weeks in order 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, mold, dust mites and pollutants such as cigarette smoke. Reactions to these allergens in cats can include severe itching across the body. It is common for cats that have these allergies to be allergic to more than one substance. So, it can take patients to determine the exact cause. While, in many cases, these allergies are seasonal, in others, itchnig may be persistent throughout the year.
Treatment for these allergies largely depends on the severity of the allergy and whether it is seasonal. A hypoallergenic diet can be helpful in relieving 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
Ongoing Treatment for Cats with Skin Allergies
Remember that many treatments for skin allergies in cats will take some time to take full effect and won't be appropriate for flareups. Your vet will be able to provide you with treatments for acute symptoms and for 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 allergin will cure the problem. This means that while your cat may live symptom-free for long periods of time, 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.