Much like their canine cousins, cats can suffer from itchy, painful skin conditions caused by allergies. Here, our Diamond Bar vets explain some causes of skin allergies in cats and how they can be treated.
Types of Allergies in Cats
If your cat has an allergy, it means that its immune system is overreacting or that they are hypersensitive to a specific substance. An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. Food, pollen, dander, and mold are some of the most common allergens in humans.
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, 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.
Different types of allergens cause these different reactions: parasites that live in or on the cat's body, allergens that cause a reaction upon contact, allergens that are ingested, and allergens that are inhaled.
In today's blog, we'll look at the various causes of skin allergies in cats, as well as the symptoms and treatments available.
Causes of Skin Allergies in Cats & How They Are Treated
When it comes to skin allergies, the allergen causing the condition will either be parasites, food allergies, or environmental allergies.
Contact allergies can occur in some cats, causing patches of irritated skin wherever the allergen has come into direct contact with the cat's body. Flea collars, shampoos, and various materials used in bedding, for example, are common contact allergens. While pinpointing the exact cause of your cat's allergy can be difficult, it's worth the effort because removing or simply not using the allergen will clear up your cat's symptoms quickly and easily.
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 has allergies to flea bites you may also notice open sores, scabs, or a rash 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
Food allergies in cats are caused by an immune reaction to an ingredient or an additive in their food. Common food allergies for cats include chicken, turkey, and beef. Some vegetable proteins found in commercially produced cat foods may be problematic for some cats including corn and wheat, and for other cats, food additives and preservatives can lead to an allergic response. Food allergies can lead to itchy skin, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress.
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. In cats, reactions to these allergens can include severe itching across the body. It is common for cats with these skin allergies to be allergic to more than one substance so it can take patience to pinpoint the precise cause. While in many cases these allergies are seasonal much like hay fever in people, in other cases itching may be present year-round.
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
- Essential fatty acids/fish oils
- Immunosuppressive drug therapy
- Antigen injections/allergy shots
Ongoing Treatment for Cats with Skin Allergies
It's important to note that many treatments for skin allergies in cats take time to work and aren't suitable for sudden flare-ups. Your veterinarian will treat you for both acute symptoms and long-term management of the condition.
While treatment can help control and relieve your cat's symptoms, only avoiding contact with the allergen will cure the problem. This means that, while your cat may be symptom-free for extended periods of time, symptoms will most likely recur on a regular basis. Your veterinarian will be able to assist you and your cat in dealing with allergic reactions as they arise.
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.