HEALTH & CARE

What are Cats Allergic To: How to Tell if Your Cat has Allergies

cat with allergy
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

If you’ve ever seen your cat with swollen eyes and a runny nose coupled with never-ending sneezing and itching, then you know how allergies can make your pet suffer. If you know what are cats allergic to, you can definitely help protect your cat from so much pain and discomfort.

Knowing what causes allergic reactions in cats can help you keep those things away from your pet. It will also help you find out what kind of emergency treatment you can give your cat to ease her symptoms—maybe even achieve complete immunity one day.

In this article, we’ll first talk about some common cat allergens. We’ll also tell you about how allergies in cats are diagnosed. Since the treatment for cat allergies will vary depending on the allergen, we’ll also give you an overview of how cat allergies are treated.

Common Cat Allergens

Because cats have very sensitive skin and sense of smell, they’re quite vulnerable to various allergens. Some cats are also allergic to certain food ingredients. Here are some of the most common cat allergens.

#1: Flea Allergies

cat scratching himself

Although not all cats are allergic to flea bites, some cats develop allergic reactions to compounds contained in the saliva of fleas. These compounds can cause your cat’s skin to become very itchy and can trigger excessive scratching.

If your cat is allergic to fleas, even just a bite or two can already trigger an allergic reaction. If it’s not yet a full-blown flea infestation, you may find it difficult to catch signs of fleas on your cat.

However, if your cat is excessively scratching, biting, or licking in certain areas of her body, it may be a sign of flea allergy. Watch out for excessive scratching around the neck, flanks, base of the tail, thighs, and belly. Your pet’s excessive grooming can also cause her to have more hairballs than usual.

An allergic reaction to flea bites often causes Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD). Because your cat excessively scratches and licks herself, this can lead to other skin conditions. For instance, your pet may develop scaling and crusting sores on her skin.

Miliary dermatitis is also another common sign of flea allergies in cats. When your cat has miliary dermatitis, you’ll find small crusty bumps on her skin, usually on the back and the neck. The crusty bumps may grow bigger if your pet scratches on them.

#2: Inhalant Allergies

cat sneezing

Next to flea bites, inhalant allergens are the second most common cause of allergic reactions in cats. There are actually many types of inhalant allergens that can affect your pet.

Also referred to as atopic allergens, inhalant allergens are absorbed by your cat through inhalation. These allergens are usually found in your pet’s living environment. Finding out which one is causing your pet’s allergic reactions may be a challenge.

Pollens are considered seasonal allergens, whereas other allergens like dust and mildew can affect your cat any time of the year. Aside from extreme itching, inhalant allergens may also cause sneezing as well as red, watery eyes.

Perfumes found in cleaning products, carpet powder, air sprays, and other household products may also cause allergic reactions in cats. You’ll know if your cat’s allergy is caused by perfumes when your pet starts sneezing anytime she comes into contact with these perfumed products or avoids them altogether.

#3: Food Allergies

cat eating chicken

Food allergies are the third most common allergy in cats. The problem with food allergens is that they typically cause vomiting and diarrhea. Your cat may also suffer from excessive itching and scratching especially around the head and neck area. Your pet may also develop recurrent ear infections or skin infections.

Food ingredients that can cause allergic reactions in cats include fish, beef, soy, chicken, wheat, and pork. One thing you should know about food allergies is that your pet may suddenly develop an allergic reaction even though she’s been eating the same food for a long time already.

#4: Drug Allergies

cat eating pill

Allergic reactions to drugs are quite rare in cats, but they do happen. Common symptoms include itching, fever, and vomiting. Your cat may also develop hives. Topical medications may cause hair loss in your pet.

In severe instances, an allergic reaction to a drug may cause difficulties in breathing. It may also cause your pet to collapse and have seizures. If this happens, you’ll need to bring your pet to the nearest vet right away.

Diagnosing Allergies in Cats

fluffy cat sneezing

When cats develop allergic reactions, you may see dermatological, gastrointestinal, and other symptoms. Here are some of the most common signs of allergic reactions in cats.

  • Wheezing, sneezing, and coughing. When your pet is exposed to environmental allergens, it can cause symptoms that are similar to asthma. This can also lead to respiratory irritation.

  • Increased scratching behavior due to itchy skin. Excessive itching is a common symptom of allergies in cats. If left alone, your cat may end up scratching her skin raw, resulting in wounds, bleeding, and swollen feet.

  • Itchy and runny eyes sometimes accompanied by a goopy discharge. This is another sign that your cat has been exposed to environmental allergens.

  • Itchy back or base of the tail. This is considered one of the symptoms of flea and insect bite allergies. It usually occurs together with itchy ears and is sometimes accompanied by ear infections.

  • Vomiting and diarrhea. Whatever the cause, frequent vomiting is definitely not a good thing for cats. Nevertheless, when vomiting is accompanied by diarrhea, it’s usually a sign that your cat has either food intolerance or food allergy.

  • Snoring. If your pet normally doesn’t snore but is suddenly doing so loudly, it could mean that your cat’s throat is irritated or inflamed, which may be caused by allergies.

  • When your cat exhibits miliary dermatitis and lesions in her mouth, it can give your vet a sign that your pet is suffering from a flea or insect bite allergy. Your doctor may conduct a biopsy of the affected areas so that other skin diseases can be ruled out.

  • If, aside from excessive itching and miliary dermatitis, your cat also exhibits other symptoms like hair loss, inhalant allergies may be suspected, and your vet may conduct a thorough physical examination to make a diagnosis.

When you see your cat exhibiting two or more of these symptoms, you should contact the vet right away to get immediate treatment for your cat and to prevent the allergic reaction from worsening.

There are several tests that your vet may perform in order to rule out flea allergy, food allergy, contact dermatitis, and other causes of allergic reactions in cats. For instance, your vet may perform an intradermal skin test wherein your vet will inject a small amount of allergens into your cat’s skin to check if it will cause an allergic reaction.

Your vet may also take skin scrapings and fungal cultures. This is to rule out other allergy-causing conditions. A blood test may also be conducted in order to test for specific antibodies and antigens in your cat’s blood.

Diagnosing a food allergy is a little bit trickier since your vet has to rule whether it’s really a food allergy or simply intolerance to a certain food ingredient. Food intolerance may also cause vomiting and diarrhea, but your cat may not show other symptoms of allergies.

Food allergies, on the other hand, are true allergies and are often accompanied by skin problems and intense itching. In an effort to diagnose this type of allergy, your vet will first place your cat on a food trial. This usually lasts around 8 to 12 weeks. During this time, your cat will be given a prescription diet.

There are no potential allergy-causing food ingredients in a diet prescribed for diagnosing a food allergy. However, the diet will ideally contain ingredients that your pet has never eaten or been exposed to in the past. Your cat should remain on this diet until her allergic symptoms go away.

It’s very important that you don’t give your pet any other treats, foods, and even vitamins, minerals, and chewable medications while she’s on the prescribed diet. This is to make sure that your pet isn’t eating anything else that may interfere with the results of the food allergy diagnosis.

When the allergic symptoms die down, that’s the time when your vet will start introducing your pet to the foods she used to eat prior to the allergic reaction in order to find out which one is causing the allergy. This is usually done one ingredient at a time in order to find the specific cause of the food allergy.

Treating Allergies in Cats

treating a cat

How your vet will treat your pet’s allergies will depend on what caused the allergic reaction in the first place. Here’s an overview of the various treatments for cat allergies.

#1: Flea Allergies

The first thing that needs to be done when your cat has flea allergies is to get rid of fleas on your pet and in your home so as to make sure your pet won’t get bitten again. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics for your cat if your cat is showing signs of secondary bacterial infection.

To help control your pet’s skin inflammation and reduce the itching, your vet may also give antihistamines or steroids to your pet. If the allergic reaction is recurring, your vet may suggest a desensitization therapy for your cat.

This means that your pet will be injected with gradually increasing amounts of flea antigen. The purpose of desensitization therapy is to re-programme your cat’s immune system so that she won’t be hypersensitive to the allergens contained in flea saliva.

See Also: How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats

#2: Inhalant Allergies

The best way to deal with inhalant allergies is to avoid the cause of the allergy. However, this may not be possible all the time if identifying the allergen is difficult to do. In this case, your vet may give your cat allergy shots so as to desensitize your pet from inhalant allergens.

Your vet may also prescribe corticosteroids for your cat to help relieve your pet’s allergic symptoms. Your cat may also be given essential fatty acid supplements since these can sometimes help in cases of inhalant allergies.

#3: Food Allergies

The best treatment for food allergies is to avoid the food ingredient that caused the allergic reaction. Hence, your vet may suggest that you switch your cat’s diet, especially if you’re giving your pet commercial cat food.

On the other hand, if you’re giving your cat a homemade diet, it’s important that you make sure you don’t include the ingredient that was identified as causing your cat’s allergic reaction. You may also want to consult with your vet regarding your cat’s homemade diet since there has to be a proper balance of protein and nutrients in your cat’s food.

See Also: How to Make Homemade Cat Food

Preventing Cat Allergies

There are many things that you can do to prevent future flare-ups and allergic reactions. Here are some tips for you.

#1: Keep Your Cat Indoors

keeping cat at home

To help reduce your pet’s exposure to pollen and other seasonal allergens, try to keep your pet indoors. Make sure that all your windows are shut since pollen can come in through the windows. Also, make sure that your air filter is clean and functioning properly.

#2: De-Flea Your House and Yard

Even if your pet stays indoors all the time, fleas in your yard and surrounding areas can find a way to get inside your home. Your vet can give you valuable advice on how to get rid of fleas on your pet and in your house.

#3: Regular Bathing

bathing a cat

When you regularly bathe your cat, it can help get rid of allergens that may have come into contact with your pet’s coat. Since your cat will inevitably groom herself, she may end up inhaling these allergens. If regular bathing is not possible, you can try wiping your cat’s coat with a damp cloth.

See Also: How to Bathe a Cat

#4: Get Rid of Molds in the House

Molds are one of the most common types of indoor allergens for cats. To further reduce your pet’s exposure to molds and other types of indoor allergens, make sure that your house is frequently and thoroughly cleaned.

#5: Avoid Perfumed Products

Try using unscented household products to minimize your cat’s exposure to indoor inhalant allergens.

#6: Avoid Giving Your Cat Allergy-Causing Food

cat eating corn

Examples include foods that contain beef, lamb, corn, soy, dairy products, and wheat gluten. These are some of the most common food allergens for cats.

#7: Use an Air Purifier

One way to minimize the presence of inhalant allergens in your house is to use an air purifier. Make sure it’s cleaned regularly so that it can effectively keep out pollen and dust and clean the air inside your house. Using a dust-free litter and regularly vacuuming the house can also help minimize dust allergens.

Wrap Up

gray cat itching

Taking care of a cat who is suffering from allergies is never an easy thing. How did you deal with your pet’s allergic reaction? Do you have other tips on how to prevent cats from developing allergies? Please feel free to share your experience, comments, and suggestions with us. For more information on how to treat cat allergies, check out this article.

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.

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