Allergies are a common issue among humans, but they aren’t the only ones who experience them. Cats can be allergic to many different things, from insect bites to dust and mold. Like humans, they can also have allergic reactions to some foods. The result is a miserable, uncomfortable cat. Pet parents don’t fare much better, wondering what they can do to provide relief and improve their cat’s overall health.
Cat allergies occur much like human allergies do. When exposed to an allergen, the cat’s immune system goes into overdrive. While the most common manifestation is itchiness (which can lead to uncontrollable scratching), some cats may also experience respiratory or digestive issues.
While the situation can be frustrating for humans and cats alike, it is possible to manage cat allergies. Understanding the symptoms, diagnosing the problem, and providing the appropriate treatment can all help.
Contrary to popular belief, cat fleas don’t always cause aggressive itchiness and scratching in cats. Typical cats only experience minor skin irritation following flea bites. However, cats with flea allergies can experience a severe reaction to a single bite.
The cause of an allergic reaction to fleas is the insect’s saliva. When a flea bites a cat, some of their saliva enters the cat’s skin, which is a part of their immune system. That cat may scratch or chew on the affected area nonstop. In addition to hair loss, cats can damage their skin, increasing their risk of developing secondary infections.
Even if a cat isn’t allergic to fleas, an infestation is a problem. Pet parents should treat the affected cat right away and take steps to eliminate fleas from their home. Prescriptions like Capstar flea medication can help eliminate adult fleas, while corticosteroids can block allergic reactions for immediate relief. A course of antibiotics can help clear up any secondary skin infections.
The best way to manage flea allergies is with cat flea and tick prevention. A monthly oral or topical medication can protect cats from cat fleas, helping them avoid uncomfortable allergic reactions. In preventing fleas and ticks, these preventatives can also help protect cats from diseases such as bartonellosis, tapeworm, anemia, Lyme disease, and more.
A food allergy is a reaction to a food or food additive in a cat’s diet. The immune system reacts to the protein in the ingredient, which can lead to itchiness, respiratory trouble, and digestive issues. The foods most commonly associated with allergies in cats include:
Some cats may have allergies to the protein in wheat or corn.
Food allergies can develop at any time during a cat’s life, even if they ate the food for years. Pet parents should also note that cats cannot be allergic to foods they’ve never eaten. Genetics may play a role in a cat’s risk. Additionally, cats with inhalant allergies are more likely to develop food allergies than those who have no allergies.
Common symptoms of food allergies include:
- Chronic, year-round itchiness and skin irritation
- Hair loss from over-grooming (often a result of itchiness)
- Recurrent skin and ear infections
- Digestive issues, including vomiting and diarrhea
- More frequent bowel movements
A food trial is the most reliable way to diagnose — and manage — food allergies. Food trials may involve:
- Feeding a cat a store-bought food containing a new protein and ingredients they’ve never had before (such as rabbit or venison)
- Feeding a cat a homemade food containing all-new ingredients they’ve never eaten before
- Feeding a cat a hydrolyzed protein food (the food contains already broken down proteins, so the cat’s immune system doesn’t recognize them)
The food trial typically lasts six to eight weeks, and the cat can’t have any other foods outside of their new special diet. That means no treats, table scraps, or supplements, no matter how much they beg.
If the cat’s allergy symptoms disappear, the pet parent will need to reintroduce the old food to see if they return. If so, the pet parent can then work with their vet to manage the allergy.
Managing cat allergies to foods looks different for every cat. Some cats have more severe reactions than others do, so they might require a strict diet. Other cats might be fine if their pet parents switch to a different variety of the same brand of cat food.
Cats with inhalant allergies (also called atopy) are usually allergic to multiple inhaled substances. These environmental or seasonal allergies often include pollen, ragweed, mold, mildew, and dust mites. Some cats may also have allergic reactions to cleaning supplies, perfumes, or cigarette smoke. Unlike humans, who often experience respiratory issues, a cat’s most common response to inhaled allergens is skin itching. Symptoms may last a few weeks to year-round, depending on the number of allergens a cat reacts to. Outdoor cats are more prone to developing seasonal allergies.
There are a few ways pet parents can manage inhalant allergies in their cats:
Immunosuppressive medications: Some cats respond well to medications like cyclosporine. These medications reduce the immune system’s overreaction to allergens, providing relief from uncomfortable symptoms.
Other treatments for atopy include antihistamines, fatty acid supplements, and allergy shots.
Contact allergies aren’t common in cats, but they do exist. A cat with a contact allergy will have an allergic reaction when they physically touch a foreign substance, such as a bed washed with scented laundry soap. Other contact allergens may include:
- Certain ingredients in flea collars
- Litter additives
- Synthetic fibers
- Carpet dyes
- Plant food
To manage these cat allergies, pet parents will first need to identify the cause. They can then manage their cat’s symptoms by keeping the offending material or substance out of their home.
Managing Cat Allergies for Optimal Cat Health
Allergies can make a cat’s life miserable and frustrate pet parents to no end. Unfortunately, there aren’t any cures for them. However, pet parents can manage their cat’s allergies to bring them relief. Specific treatments vary based on the allergy and its severity. Pet parents can work with their vets to come up with an effective plan that provides the best results and ensures the cat avoids unnecessary discomfort.