Quick Reference Guide to Identifying & Combating Cat Allergies

Quick Reference Guide to Identifying & Combating Cat Allergies

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How to Identify Cat Allergies

Cat allergies are one of the most frustrating conditions for cats and their owners. There are a variety of treatment options because there is no one safe and effective treatment. Scratching is just one sign your cat might have an allergy.

Allergies can affect different body parts in different ways. There are four main allergy categories: airborne, flea dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and food.

Here in our house, we have dealt with all but the flea allergies (thanks to our regular prevention regimen). There’s a lot of good information out there, but when you’re going through it with your cat, it can be difficult to find resources that zero in on what you need in a manageable way.

With that in mind, here’s a quick reference guide to cat allergies. Please consult your vet if your cat is experiencing any of these symptoms.

Airborne Allergies

These occur when your cat inhales particles that he’s allergic to.

  • Agents: pollen, dust mites, and mold
  • Symptoms: sneezing, pawing at or rubbing face on floor or furniture, chewing/biting/licking skin, recurring ear infections
  • Notes: Airborne allergies are mostly seasonal.

Flea Dermatitis

This occurs when your cat has a reaction to a flea bite. You can pretty easily prevent this by giving him regular flea prevention.

  • Agents: flea bites
  • Symptoms: Same as airborne, but can become more severe, resulting in hives and anaphylaxis.
  • Notes: More common in dogs and cats that have outdoor access than indoor cats. If you give your cat a topical flea prevention treatment and you still have flea problems, ask your vet about prescribing an oral medication.

Contact Dermatitis

This occurs when your cat touches something that he’s allergic to.

  • Agents: household cleaners, detergents, grass, plastic
  • Symptoms: appearance of red bumps/irritation on points of contact (like paws, stomach, and tail), scratching/chewing/licking, hair loss, hot spots

Food Allergies

These kick in when your cat ingests something he’s allergic to.

  • Agents: Can be anything, but the most allergenic foods are protein sources like beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs. Soy, corn, and wheat are also common food allergens.
  • Symptoms: GI upset indicated by audible stomach gurgles, vomiting, and diarrhea. May also cause respiratory issues.
  • Notes: Cats aren’t born with food allergies; they get them after eating a certain food for a while. The most thorough way to diagnose a food allergy is to do a diet trial or put your cat onto hypoallergenic food so you can figure out what might be the culprit. Your vet can help you with this.

Treatments Options for Allergies in Cats

There are many ways to tackle allergies. Depending on the type of allergy, the allergen, and the cat, you might have to try a few things (or a combination of things) to find the right treatment. Remember to enlist the guidance of your vet when commencing this battle. I’ll start with the easier strategies and work up to the more serious treatments.

  • Brushing: Brushing your cat regularly can help keep allergens from settling on his fur and skin.
  • Paw wiping: If your cat goes to town on his paws after being outside, simply wiping his paws off with a towel or prescription-medicated pads from your vet can do a lot to get rid of allergens. Do this every time he comes inside, and you might see a big difference. This is more common in dogs.
  • High quality food: Work with your vet, nutritionist, or local independent pet food provider to find a food that is high-quality and made with ingredients that don’t cause allergic reactions. A grain free food is often a good start but many cats with allergies will require a limited ingredient diet.
  • Nutraceuticals/Supplements: Adding sources of Vitamin C, Omegas, Vitamin A, Selenium, Zinc, and other power-packed nutrients to your cat’s food (and sometimes water) can help address the root cause of all kinds of allergies.
  • Switching food/water bowls: This is a strategy that is more commonly used with cats versus dogs. If you notice your cat getting acne or irritation around his mouth area, it could be the bowls you’re using. Try switching to glass or ceramic and see what happens. Some vets recommend stainless steel. Avoid plastic.
  • Air filters: To help combat airborne allergens, use an air filter or two in the house. You might even see a difference in yourself!
  • Antihistamines: Over the counter human meds are not commonly used in cats (however they are commonly used in dogs). They don’t tend to work that well in cats and some antihistamines like Benadryl have to be even every 8 hours making them difficult to give with our busy schedules. Antihistamines don’t address the allergy itself; they just ease the symptoms.
  • Antibiotics: These are typically prescribed if the allergy has created a secondary bacterial or yeast infection.
  • Topical creams, ointments, and shampoos: These are prescribed to help heal visible hot spots, irritation, and infections that are a result of the allergy. There are different varieties that have different levels of medication.
  • Steroids: These are prescribed when the antihistamines don’t work. They are pretty powerful though, and can have some substantial side effects. One potentially serious side effect in cats is a small risk of diabetes mellitus.
  • Allergy shots: These are expensive and intense, but a lot of cats benefit from them. They work a lot like human allergy shots. Ask your vet about them.
  • Prednisone: Is a type of steroid; see under steroid.
  • Depomedrol: Is a type of steroid; see under steroid.

I hope these help you understand more about allergies, causes and treatment options in your cat.

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