Much like their canine cousins, cats can suffer from itchy, painful skin conditions caused by allergies. Here, our Los Angeles 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 it is 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.
These different reactions are caused by different types of allergins; parasites that live in or on the cat's body, allergens that cause a reaction upon contact, allergins that are ingested, and allergens that are inhaled.
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.
Contact allergies can occur in some cats, causing patches of irritated skin wherever the allergin has come into direct contact with the cat's body. Flea collars, shampoos, and various bedding materials are examples of 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 allergin will quickly and easily 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 has skin allergies to flea bites you may also notice scabs or open sores on the skin, particularly at the base of the tail. These sores can result in secondary bacterial skin infections.
The most effective way to treat this allergy is to keep fleas away from your pet. If your pet has fleas, talk to your vet about different flea control products and how to get rid of fleas on your cat. Your veterinarian may prescribe corticosteroids (cortisone or steroids) to help block the allergic reaction and provide immediate relief from itchiness in your cat. If your cat has a secondary skin infection as a result of scratching, antibiotics may be required.
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 in cats can lead to a rash, itchy skin, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress.
An elimination or hypoallergenic diet is typically prescribed for cats suspected of having a food allergy. These diets involve feeding your cat only ingredients they have never eaten before, such as rabbit or venison, and completely eliminating their regular food. These diets must be strictly followed in order to be effective. There will be no cat treats (unless approved as part of the diet) or sneaking table scraps. Elimination diets must be followed for 9-12 weeks to allow your cat's body to eliminate all traces of the problematic ingredient and begin the recovery process.
Inhalant & Atopy Allergies
Inhalant and atopy allergies are those caused by environmental substances such as ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites, and pollutants such as cigarette smoke. Allergic reactions in cats can cause severe itching all over the body. It is common for cats with these allergies to be allergic to more than one substance, so determining the precise cause can take time. While these allergies are often seasonal, similar to hayfever in humans, itching may be present all 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
- 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 of the treatments for skin allergies in cats take time to take effect and are not appropriate for sudden flareups. Your vet will provide you with treatments for acute symptoms and for the 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.