Does Your Cat Have Allergies?
From itchy skin to wheezing, to diarrhea, the symptoms of allergies in cats are varied and often hard to spot. Allergies occur when your cat’s immune system detects foreign proteins and tries to remove them. They’re the most widespread medical problem among cats. That’s why this article will explore the most common allergies cats encounter as well as how to treat them. First, we’ll look at how allergies manifest, this offers an idea of the symptoms to watch out for.
AN ALLERGIC MANIFESTATION
Cats and people have a lot in common when it comes to allergies. Some of the most common allergens that may irritate your cat are the same as those that bother people. This includes pollens, dust, mold, and even pet hair. Not only are we allergic to many of the same things, but these allergens manifest in the same ways.
- THROUGH THE SKIN: Your cat may be itching himself more than usual, this could be localized to one specific area or could cause a general reaction across his entire body. Manifestation through the skin is the most common for cats.
- RESPIRATORYTORY SYSTEM: Depending on the allergen, it may cause your cat to wheeze, cough, or sneeze. You may also notice nasal or eye discharge.
- DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: When your cat eats a food that is recognized by its immune system as an intruder the result is often vomiting, diarrhea, and/or flatulence.
TYPES OF ALLERGIES IN CATS
While there are many things your cat may be allergic to, the items can generally be broken down into four types; (1) Insects such as fleas. (2) Inhalants such as dust. (3) Food. (4) Contact, from rubbing up against something, for example.
- INSECT ALLERGIES
Flea allergies are the most common in cats. They’re also the cause of a lot of confusion. Many cats react to a flea bite, but most only experience minor irritation. That’s a natural and normal reaction for the body to have. However, when a cat is allergic to fleas, he’ll experience a more severe reaction. The allergic response is due to the proteins present in the flea’s saliva. Some of the fleas’s saliva is injected into the skin with every flea bite. This could lead to scabs or open sores on the skin. It’s also common for a secondary bacterial skin infection to occur.
Corticosteroids can help treat a reaction, providing immediate relief to the intense itching your cat may be experiencing. Treating any secondary infections that arise from the sores should also be a priority.
With insect allergies, the best course of action is preventative medicine. Continuous flea control is necessary for cats allergic to fleas. Many flea infestations occur in spring, summer, and fall. However, with our mild winters in Southern BC, it’s becoming more and more important to continue treatment in December, January, and February as well.
- INHALANT ALLERGIES
There is still a lot to learn about Atopy, also known as an “inhalant allergy” in cats. When it comes to dogs and people “atopic dermatitis” refers to environmental allergens such as grass, mildew, dust mites, etc. When we inhale these, they’re expressed as a respiratory problem. Cats however express their inhalant allergies as skin problems. Additionally, if a cat suffers from one inhalant allergy (such as ragweed, cedar, or mold) then they’re likely to have several allergens. This makes diagnosing and treating a little more difficult as their symptoms may only last for a couple of weeks before that allergen is gone and is replaced by a new seasonal allergen.
Corticosteroids such as prednisone can help treat your cat during a reaction. Steroids block the reaction quickly regardless of being given orally or by injection. Many cat owners also find antihistamines and essential fatty acids as effective allergen treatments. It’s important to understand that it can take 7-10 days for antihistamines to become effective though, so they’re best used as a preventative measure.
Inhalant allergies can also be treated through immunosuppressive drugs. The treatments target the immune cells, to reduce hypersensitivity. This option should also be viewed as preventative medicine as it can take up to a month to become effective.
Finally, Inhalant allergies can also be treated through desensitization. Antigen injections or allergy shots can be used once the allergen has been identified through blood tests or intradermal skin testing. This treatment aims to reprogram your cat’s immune response, decreasing his sensitivity to the allergen. Unfortunately, while desensitization is a great option for many cat parents, it can take up to a year for allergy shots to become effective.
- FOOD ALLERGIES
Believe it or not, when a cat suffers an allergic response to a food, it’s likely to have been from a protein source. Beef, pork, chicken, and turkey are common ingredients; allergies may stem from this meat or from the proteins in the corn, wheat, or preservatives, also found in their meals.
Some food allergies may cause skin or respiratory reactions, however, it’s more likely that your cat will experience digestive issues from his food allergen. Often, the best way to confirm a food allergy is through an elimination or hypoallergenic diet. It usually takes at least five months to complete a proper diet, because all current and previous food products need to be eliminated from the body. Then, you need to introduce food products that your cat has never had before such as rabbit or venison. The cat needs to be on this special diet for three months before confirming a positive response and determining a course of action.
- CONTACT ALLERGIES
It’s actually very uncommon for cats to experience a contact allergy. However, if you notice skin irritation, especially if it’s localized, and have not introduced new foods, then it’s worth consideration. Shampoos, flea collars, or certain bedding are the likely culprits if it turns out to be a contact allergen. While solving the problem is easy (you simply have to remove or stop using the item) determining what is causing the reaction is difficult.