What is Bothering Your Cat? It Could Be Feline Allergies



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Like people, our feline friends can develop allergies. This happens when their immune systems become sensitive to substances present in their surroundings. Known as allergens, these irritating substances may not bother you or other animals in your home, but as your cat’s body tries to get rid of the offending substances, he might show all kinds of symptoms.

Because there is such a wide variety of allergens, cat allergies are generally divided into 3 main categories: flea allergy, environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis), and food allergy. Flea allergy and environmental allergies – the ones that cause “hay fever” symptoms in humans – are the most common. However, cats often have multiple allergies, so a thorough examination by your veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist is recommended.

Symptoms
Allergic kitties are often very itchy and have skin problems associated with allergic dermatitis. They also might exhibit some of these symptoms:

  • Sneezing, coughing, and wheezing – especially if the cat has asthma
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Ear infections
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
  • Paw chewing or swollen, sensitive paws


There are a variety of allergens that cause these symptoms:

  • Pollen, grass, plants, mold, mildew, and other organic substances
  • Food
  • Perfumes and colognes
  • Fleas or flea-control products
  • Household cleaning products
  • Prescription drugs
  • Some cat litters

Gastrointestinal symptoms usually accompany a food allergy, so it is important to avoid feeding your cat food to which he or she has a known allergy. Also, allergies tend to be more common among outdoor cats because they are exposed to a wider range of potential allergens, especially from plants and organic matter.

Diagnosis
If something appears to be making your kitty miserable, the best thing to do is pay your veterinarian a visit. He or she will initially do a complete history and physical exam for your cat to determine the source of the allergies.

If your vet suspects your cat has allergies, he might want to perform blood tests or experiment with your kitty’s diet to narrow down the cause. Or, if your vet thinks your cat has a skin allergy, your cat might be referred to a veterinary dermatologist.

Treatment & Prevention
The best way to treat your cat’s allergies is to remove the allergens from his or her environment. For instance, if your cat’s allergies are caused by fleas, using veterinarian-recommended flea and tick preventatives can eliminate the cause. If the problem is cat litter, substituting your normal litter for a dust-free alternative could do the trick. In fact, this might help correct a bigger problem if your cat’s been missing his or her litter box.

When it comes to pollen, fungus, mold, or dust, bathing your cat a couple of times per week can help alleviate itching. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate shampoo to help you avoid drying out your cat’s skin.

A diagnosis of food allergies may require you to provide your cat with a prescription diet or even home-cooked meals free of the offending allergens. Your veterinarian will provide recommendations as to the best course of action. It is possible that your cat will need dietary supplements to ensure he gets all the vital nutrients he needs.

Medication
Medication is sometimes prescribed for cats in case certain allergens cannot be removed from the environment. Medications include:

  • Cortisone, steroids or allergy injections for airborne pollens
  • Antihistamines as a preventative
  • Flea prevention products

How do allergies affect asthma?
If your cat is allergic to environmental pollutants, it may worsen your cat’s asthma. In this case, your vet may prescribe medications that open your cat’s airway for the short-term; long term solutions include corticosteroids. And here’s a good reminder: cigarette smoke is bad for your cat, especially if your cat has asthma.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


Allergies of Cats

, DVM, DACVD, University of California, Davis

, DVM, DACVD, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Like people, cats can be allergic to various substances, including plant particles and other substances in the air or in food. These substances are called allergens. Allergens are substances that, when inhaled or absorbed through the skin, respiratory tract, or gastrointestinal tract, stimulate antibody production. When an animal comes in contact with these allergens in the future, more antibodies are produced, triggering histamine release and inflammation.


Food Allergy vs Food Intolerance?

Consumers can often misunderstand food intolerance as an allergy because both can produce similar symptoms.

A cat that has a food allergy will often have prolonged itchy skin affecting the head, stomach, groin, armpits, legs, and paws. This will usually result in over-grooming, causing additional wounds and hair loss later on. Other symptoms can include vomiting, flatulence, diarrhea, ear problems, coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. It is worth noting that most true allergies seen in pets with skin disorders are due to fleas, dust mites, grasses, pollen, and other environmental issues. If the immune system is truly compromised, flea insensitivity and dermatitis can be triggered.

Food intolerance symptoms are usually less serious and are mostly associated with digestive problems.


How do I change my cat’s diet?

Transition your cat to a new food by substituting a little of the new stuff for the old stuff in their usual meal. Swap out a little more at the next feeding, and so on, for a week.

By the seventh day, your cat should be completely switched over to the new food.

Remember to avoid giving your cat treats and people food, which may include some of the allergens you’re trying to avoid.

If you notice any new symptoms, talk to your vet.

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Remember

It is essential to introduce any new food gradually (usually 2-3 weeks) as it takes time for your cat’s digestive system to fully adjust. If you change the food too quickly it could cause an adverse reaction. Do not expect to see any reductions in symptoms immediately as the change will be gradual.

If you are unsure about what food is best to feed your cat, always contact your vet for advice. See the PSDA website for more advice on food allergies in cats.


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