Feline Allergies

feline_allergies

Allergies are an extreme reaction of the immune system to common substances in a cat’s every day environment. Feline allergies can be a vexing problem for cat guardians and veterinarians. This article provides an overview of allergy symptoms, and of how feline allergies are diagnosed and treated.

Feline allergy symptoms

Allergies can manifest with a wide array of symptoms:

  • Sneezing, coughing and wheezing
  • Itchy skin/increased scratching
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Itchy back or base of tail (most commonly seen in flea allergies)
  • Itchy ears and frequent ear infections
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Causes of feline allergies

Just like with human allergies, feline allergies can be caused by a wide range of substances:

  • Tree, grass, weed, mold, mildew and dust pollens
  • Food
  • Fleas
  • Flea-control products
  • Prescription drugs
  • Perfumes
  • Cleaning products
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fabrics
  • Rubber and plastic materials

Diagnosis of feline allergies

Diagnosing feline allergies can be a frustrating and drawn out process. For topical allergies, there are currently two methods of allergy testing available: the skin prick test or intradermal test (small amounts of suspected allergens are pricked or injected into the skin), or the RAST (radioallergysorbent) blood test. There is quite a bit of debate among veterinarians about the accuracy of either test methodology.

Food allergies can only be accurately diagnosed through a food elimination trial. There are two approaches to food trials: a hypoallergenic diet, or a novel protein diet. Hypoallergenic, or hydrolyzed protein diets, are formulated with the protein in the diet broken down into molecules too small to trigger the immune reaction. The idea behind the novel protein diet is to feed a diet with a protein that the cat has not been previously exposed to. Unfortunately, with pet food manufacturers coming up with ever more exotic diets, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a truly novel protein. Typically, novel protein diets would be venison, rabbit or duck based. During a food trial, the new diet needs to be fed exclusively for a minimum of 12 weeks.

Treatment of feline allergies

Treatment will depend on the cause of your cat’s allergies.

Prevention

If you were able to determine what is triggering your cat’s allergy symptoms, prevention is the best treatment. In the case of environmental allergies, eliminate the trigger. For dust allergies, frequently wash and vacuum. Consider eliminating carpeting. For pollen, tree and mold allergies, keep your windows closed, and use HEPA filters for your furnace/air conditioning system and vacuum cleaner. Use dust-free,  unscented cat litter.

Bathing

In some cases, bathing your cat once or twice a week may prove helpful, but most cats are not going to be thrilled about this treatment, and you’ll have to weigh benefits against the stress this may cause.

Steroids

Far too many vets immediately reach for steroids to treat feline allergies. While steroid injections effectively relieve symptoms, they don’t address the root case, and relief usually only lasts a couple of weeks. Steroids can have potentially serious longterm side effects, making this the least desirable treatment option.

Medications

There are a number of medications that have been used with more or less success to treat feline allergies. Atopica (cyclosporine) is an immunosuppressant that has been helpful in some cats. It helps reduce the inflammation response. Antihistamines such as Benadryl may help reduce symptoms. Never use over the counter human allergy medications on your cat.

Supplements 

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid supplements may be helpful in relieving feline allergy symptoms.

Allergy Injections

The goal of hyposensitization therapy (allergy shots) is to desensitize the cat to the substance she is allergic to. It requires quite a commitment on the guardian’s part, since the injections have to be given frequently, and they can take up to two years to become effective, and even then it may not be effective.

Natural remedies

There are a number of natural remedies available to help with feline allergies. Spirit Essences Skin Soother formula may help balance the cat’s energy system, allowing for healing from the inside out. Since cats with allergy symptoms can be pretty stressed, Reiki can also have a positive effect on helping the cat become more calm and balanced.

Feline allergies are a frustrating and complex issue. Your first step in dealing with them should always be a visit to your veterinarian.

Photo: istockphoto

14 Comments on Feline Allergies

  1. Angela
    June 9, 2014 at 12:28 pm (3 years ago)

    Thank you for this information. I have been working with my vet on my cat’s seasonal allergies. We’ve been through 2 rounds of prednisone, which have been successful, but are going to try atopica as a more long-term solution. Thanks for the suggestions on the skin soother and Reiki, I will have to try them as well.

    Reply
  2. barbgriffin
    September 1, 2013 at 12:46 pm (4 years ago)

    my cats are taking ciproheptadine approx 1/4 tab twice a day. don’t know what they are allergic to but scratch ears w/o this drug. i worry,tho. because it has a side effect of appetite stimulant. my one cat is about 3# overweight. we have tried chlorpheniramine and others and have had bad reactions. is there anything else?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 1, 2013 at 4:28 pm (4 years ago)

      I have not heard of cyproheptadine being used to help with allergies. It’s a bronchodilator that also acts as an appetite stimulant, as you already know. It sounds like you need to work with your vet to find a better solution for your cats.

      Reply
  3. Paula K.
    August 26, 2013 at 1:30 pm (4 years ago)

    I just want to clarify that Atopica IS Cyclosporine. It’s been a miracle drug for my BK, who has severe allergies. That medicine, along with a raw diet, has worked wonders for us.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm (4 years ago)

      Thanks for the clarification, Paula. I updated my post.

      Reply
  4. Viki Worden
    August 26, 2013 at 11:46 am (4 years ago)

    This is great information! I would love to try the Spirit Essenses Skin Smoother but it is a little too expensive for me right now. Two cats, out of my 4, have allergies. I don’t know if it is coincidence, but they are both black. They scratch around their ears and neck. I believe it is environmental because it is usually the same time each year, during the summer months. They like to sit in the windows so it is probably trees or ragweed or something like that. I usually will start stroking them when I see them scratching. They seem to like that. I am trying to relax them so they will forget about scratching. One of them, Meeko, has a compulsive obsession with licking the fur off his back legs and part of his belly. I have talked to his vet about it. He believes that is from him being anxious all the time. He didn’t prescribe anything for him. He also has allergies to some ingredients in food. It has been a guessing game. He can’t eat any poultry I have to give him brown rice along with only beef dry food and a little beef canned food because he has GI problems too. He has been quite a health experiment, lol. I almost lost him a couple times. He has a spinal defect too. He can’t jump that well. He is 10 now and I am worried about arthritis, especially with the spinal defect. I keep watching him get around, waiting to see if I need to call the vet to get something prescribed for arthritis pain. So far he is doing ok. He lays down and sleeps more than he used to. Well, I am getting off track from the allergy topic. Would you happen to know of any over the counter remedy, that isn’t too costly, that would help with the scratching allergy?

    Thank you for your information. I love reading your emails.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm (4 years ago)

      It sounds like Meeko’s issue may be behavioral rather than an allergy, Viki. As I mentioned to Rudolph above, I’ll be featuring an article on excessive grooming in the near future.

      Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any safe, effective over-the-counter remedies for feline allergies. You may want to try coconut oil, as Caren suggested in her comment, but I’d run it by your vet first to make sure it’s okay to use in your case.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying my emails!

      Reply
  5. Caren Gittleman
    August 26, 2013 at 8:26 am (4 years ago)

    Cody suffers from allergies that the vet had previously thought were food related but now we have our doubts. We are thinking they are environmental.
    He was always given prednisonol.
    A week or so ago I noticed a tiny red spot (usually what I see before a hot spot appears) and I had heard that Coconut oil is great for feline allergies. I gave Cody a 1/4 tsp (as directed) and guess what? The red spot never grew into a “hot spot”. It is two weeks, I have been giving him coconut oil every day and so far it is keeping his allergies under control!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 26, 2013 at 2:18 pm (4 years ago)

      Coconut oil has shown to have all sorts of antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits for humans, but I have not heard much about it being used for cats, Caren. That’s wonderful that it’s helping Cody – thanks for sharing! How do you give it? Do you mix it in with his food?

      Reply
  6. alison
    August 26, 2013 at 7:23 am (4 years ago)

    I keep my kitty up to date with his flea treatment and also treat the only carpet I have on the stairs with a spray to keep the fleas at bay. I will say that the topical flea treatment does make him seem unwell 12 hours later for about 24 hrs. He is very subdued and sleeps a lot. My poor little baby, but I suppose better this than scratching with fleas.

    Reply
  7. Rudolph.A.Furtado
    August 26, 2013 at 2:13 am (4 years ago)

    Excellent information.My 6 year old Traditional Persian cat “Matahari” suffers from excessive grooming. She spends half the day licking her coat but is otherwise healthy and normal.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 26, 2013 at 6:18 am (4 years ago)

      I’ll be featuring an article on excessive grooming in the near future, Rudolph.

      Reply
    • alison
      August 26, 2013 at 7:28 am (4 years ago)

      Sometimes my cat licks a lot, and I wonder if it is because he is getting bitten. I make sure his flea treatment is up today (do check with a vet you are giving a good one – usually prescription only and only from a vet (eye roll at expense), as the propriety ones the fleas can become immune to. Frontline blue and Frontline Green, he still managed to get fleas, vet changed me to Advantage…so far, so good. Also, I use a FURMINATOR comb. Best thing ever….and soooo much cheaper on Amazon than from the vets. About a third of the price. I bought ‘small dog’ version, which i think has the same size teeth as ‘cat’ version. Good luck x

      Reply

Leave a comment

First time visitors: please read our Comment Guidelines.