After a winter of cold temperatures and short days, most people welcome the first signs of spring. Unfortunately, spring can signal the start of a miserable time for humans and pets who suffer as pollen counts rise and allergy symptoms kick into high gear. Unlike humans, who suffer respiratory symptoms from irritants in the air, cats develop skin problems that cause severe itching. In this article, we’ll cover these airborne allergies as well as food allergies and flea allergies that affect our lovable felines.
Airborne Allergies in Cats
Indoor and outdoor environmental factors begin affecting susceptible cats when they are between one and three years of age. Common allergens that affect cats include tree pollens, grass pollens, weed pollens, molds, mildew and house dust mites. As a result of these irritants, cats will chew, lick and scratch, thus mutilating their skin. This can cause skin lesions in the form of small bumps or crusty, scabby areas that bleed and ooze. Allergic cats will often groom excessively and pull out tufts of hair, leaving bald patches on their skin.
Allergy Testing in Cats
Your veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist can perform allergy tests to rule out other conditions such as a flea allergy, contact dermatitis, ringworm or a food allergy. Specific allergy testing is done either by taking a blood test or performing intradermal skin testing. The blood tests are reasonably reliable for detecting airborne allergies, but skin testing is considered more accurate. Blood tests are done by shaving a patch of hair on your cat’s side and then injecting small amounts of allergens under the skin and seeing if it elicits an allergic reaction.
How to Treat Allergies in Cats
The severity of your cat’s allergy symptoms and the length of their allergy season will dictate his treatment. Suppose your cat suffers mild allergy symptoms with only localized itching, in that case, he might be treated with topical shampoos or rinses, topical anti-itch solutions, antihistamines, omega-3 fatty acid supplements or a combination of these products.
Corticosteroids are very good anti-itch and anti-inflammatory medications. Cats show fewer side effects to steroids than dogs do, and they can be quite safe and effective in cats when used properly. There are many different kinds of steroids available in both injectable and tablet form.
Severe allergies are sometimes treated with hyposensitization therapy or “allergy shots.” Offending allergens are mixed together in a laboratory and very small injections are given at home every week. This treatment aims to help your cat become less sensitive to the allergens.
There are measures you can take on your own to minimize the things your cat is allergic to. They include keeping your cat indoors with the windows closed during periods of high pollen season, using air conditioning or air purifiers to help reduce allergens, and rinsing your cat off after he’s been in high grass and weeds.
Food Allergies in Cats
Like humans, cats can have allergic reactions to foods such as soy, dairy products, wheat, or meats. To determine if your cat is allergic to a substance, he must be exposed to the food at least twice. If a reaction happens after only one exposure, it could be an isolated incident. Symptoms from food allergies can include persistent scratching, recurrent ear infections, vomiting, sneezing and runny eyes.
A visit to your veterinarian can help address your cat’s potential food allergies. A first step might be testing to rule out a food allergy. If a food allergy does exist, the most accurate way to diagnose what your cat is allergic to is by conducting a food trial. This entails feeding your feline a diet that doesn’t contain a protein he’s been previously exposed to for six to eight weeks. This is achieved through a hydrolyzed-protein diet (protein in small enough quantity so that your cat’s immune system can’t recognize it) or a prescription diet that your vet recommends.
Once your feline is free of symptoms, your veterinarian will re-introduce foods back into your cat’s diet to identify which food is causing the allergy. Your cat may require a permanent switch to a prescription food, a home-made food, or simply needs to avoid certain brands and types of food.
Even if it turns out that your cat doesn’t have a food allergy, proper nutrition is important for your cat’s skin. High protein foods with essential fatty acids and antioxidants are particularly helpful for keeping your cat’s skin healthy. Unique protein sources such as venison or duck and those that include fish oil, which naturally contains high omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are especially helpful. Vitamin E is also an excellent antioxidant that boosts your cat’s immune system.
A flea allergy is not an allergy to the actual flea, but an allergy to the flea’s saliva. The cat’s allergic reaction occurs when the flea injects its saliva into a flea-allergic cat through a bite. If your cat is vulnerable, he will frequently lick, scratch and chew himself to try to alleviate the irritation caused by the bite. Flea itching can cause hair loss and if the irritation to the skin persists, he can often develop a skin infection. If this occurs, your veterinarian might prescribe an antibiotic for your cat.
This scenario is avoidable by treating your cat with a flea preventative, which will deter fleas from biting him. You might also consider treating your home during the warmer months when fleas are more prevalent to reduce the chances of your cat getting bitten. If your feline goes outdoors, your yard should be treated as well. Cats that don’t suffer from flea allergies should also take a flea preventive to prevent tapeworm and other conditions caused by fleas.
Grooming is a necessary and natural behavior for your cat, but you should take note if he is excessively itching, scratching, licking or rubbing. These can be symptoms of allergies, skin disease or stress. If you notice unusual or obsessive grooming, bring your cat in for a medical examination. Allergies tend to be chronic conditions. By covering your cat’s health needs with a good pet insurance policy, you’ll have one less aggravation to worry about and a very happy and healthy cat!