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Understanding Allergies in Cats

Cat scratching

With springtime already here in some areas (and hopefully arriving soon in others) allergy season is on its way. If you’re an allergy sufferer and cat parent, you might wonder if cats can have allergies as well. The answer is yes, though the symptoms may not look like what you’d expect.

The three main causes of allergies in cats are flea allergy, environmental allergy, and food allergy. Keep reading for more detail on each of these allergy causing factors and their treatment.

Flea Allergies

Many cats who encounter fleas won’t react severely to a flea bite, outside of minor itching. Some cats, however, can have an allergic reaction to the fleas’ saliva, resulting in a condition called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Cats with FAD will have severe itching and will compulsively scratch and lick their skin, sometimes to the point of causing lesions and skin infections. The treatment involves medications to help the skin heal, and regularly applying effective flea prevention.

Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergies are caused by some of the same things that affect us as humans, namely pollen, mold, dust mites, and others. While our reaction to these allergens is usually respiratory symptoms like sneezing and watery eyes, your cat (while they may show these signs) is more likely to have a reaction on their skin. Scratching, biting, and licking their skin is commonly seen in response to an inhaled allergen. The skin can become inflamed and develop sores. Treatment for this type of allergy is a bit more tricky, as it’s hard to determine what the specific cause is. Your vet may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing. Be sure to have your cat diagnosed by a veterinarian rather than a mail order hair or saliva test, which is less accurate. Depending on the results, immunotherapy might be recommended.

Cat scratching outside

Food Allergies

Food allergies in cats most often show the same skin symptoms seen with environmental allergies. Itchy skin will  frequently be on the cat’s head, ears, and face, though it can show up on other parts of the body. A small percentage of cats will also have gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. The most common culprits in your cat’s food that can cause allergies are the protein source (chicken, fish, pork, beef), or carbohydrate source (wheat or corn). Diagnosing a food allergy can often be done by feeding a novel diet containing protein and carbohydrate sources that your cat has never been exposed to. Your cat will need to eat only this diet, no treats or other food, for about 8 weeks. If the symptoms resolve they can continue on the diet indefinitely.

What to do if you notice that your cat is showing signs of allergies?

No matter the type of allergy affecting your cat, treatment will involve managing the symptoms so your cat’s skin and anything else affected can heal and get your cat more comfortable, determining the cause of the allergy as much as possible, and reducing or eliminating exposure to the allergens.

If your cat is showing signs that could point to one of these types of allergies, please schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians to help you provide relief for your cat.

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