Just like dogs, cats can experience itchy and painful skin issues due to allergies. Our veterinarians at Ypsilanti will describe what can cause cat skin allergies and how we can help treat them.
Types of Allergies in Cats
If your cat has an allergy, it means their immune system reacts strongly or is super sensitive to something. This thing that causes an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Some everyday allergens for people include food, pollen, pet fur, and mold.
When your cat has an allergic reaction to something, it can show up in three main ways:
- Skin - Itching of the skin, either in a specific spot or more generalized all over your cat's body.
- Respiratory - Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and other respiratory issues, including discharge from the nose or eyes.
- Gastrointestinal - The third manifestation involves the digestive system and can result in vomiting, flatulence, and/or diarrhea.
Different types of allergens cause these different reactions; parasites that live in or on the cat's body, allergens that cause a reaction upon contact, allergens that are ingested, and allergens that are inhaled.
In today's blog, we look at different causes of cat skin allergies, the associated symptoms, and how they can be treated.
Causes of Skin Allergies in Cats & How They Are Treated
When it comes to skin allergies, the allergen causing the condition will either be parasites, food allergies, or environmental allergies.
Although not very common, cats can develop contact allergies that cause irritated skin in the areas where their body has come into contact with certain substances. These substances often include flea collars, shampoos, and materials found in things like bedding. Figuring out exactly what's causing your cat's allergy might not be easy, but it's worth trying because getting rid of or avoiding the allergen can quickly and easily make your cat feel better.
Contrary to what many people might think, not all cats go crazy scratching when they get bitten by a flea. Sometimes, a flea bite is just a little annoying. But if your cat is allergic to the stuff in flea saliva, even one bite can make them really itchy. In cases like this, your cat might scratch a lot or chew on their skin, making them lose a lot of hair. You might also see open sores, a rash, or scabs on their skin, especially near their tail. Sometimes, those sores can lead to more skin problems because of bacteria.
The way to make your cat feel better is to make sure those fleas stay far away from them. If your pet has fleas, talk to your vet about ways to get rid of them and keep them away. Your vet might give your cat corticosteroids (kind of like medicine) to stop the allergic reaction and stop the itching fast. If your cat's been scratching a lot and has an infection, they might also need antibiotics.
Food Allergies in Cats
Food allergies in cats happen when an ingredient or an additive in their food triggers their immune system. Cats often develop allergies to common foods like chicken, turkey, and beef. Some vegetable proteins found in cat food, like corn and wheat, can also be troublesome for certain cats. Additionally, some cats might react to food additives and preservatives. These allergies can cause problems like itchy skin, digestive issues, and difficulty breathing.
If you suspect your cat has a food allergy, your vet might recommend an elimination or hypoallergenic diet. This special diet means your cat will only eat things they've never had before, like rabbit or venison, and you'll have to completely remove their regular food. It's crucial to follow this diet very closely. That means no cat treats (unless they're approved for the diet) and no sneaking them table scraps. You'll need to stick to the elimination diet for about 9-12 weeks. This gives your cat's body enough time to get rid of any traces of the problematic ingredient and begin the healing process.
Inhalant & Atopy Allergies
Inhalant and atopy allergies happen when your cat's body reacts to things in the environment like ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites, and even stuff like cigarette smoke. Cats with these allergies often get really itchy all over their bodies. Sometimes, they can be allergic to more than one thing, so it might take some time to figure out what's causing all the itching.
Some cats might only have these allergies during certain times of the year, similar to how some people get hay fever in the spring. But for others, the itching can happen all year long.
How we treat these allergies depends on how bad they are and whether they only happen at certain times of the year. One thing that can help is a special diet that's designed to be easy on the allergies. There are also treatments like:
- Corticosteroids (prednisone)
- Sprays and shampoos to improve the health of the skin
- Essential fatty acids/fish oils
- Immunosuppressive drug therapy
- Antigen injections/allergy shots
Ongoing Treatment for Cats with Skin Allergies
It's good to remember that lots of treatments for skin allergies in cats might not work right away and may not be suitable for sudden flare-ups. Your vet will give you treatments for when your cat has symptoms suddenly and for looking after the problem over a long time.
Treatment can make your cat feel better and control the symptoms. But the only way to really fix the issue is to keep your cat away from whatever is causing the allergy. This means that even if your cat feels fine for a long time, the symptoms might come back sometimes. Your vet will be there to help you and your cat when allergic reactions happen.
Our veterinarians at Michigan Avenue Animal Hospital offer testing, diagnosis, and management options for cat allergies and can provide guidance for caring for your beloved companion at home to ensure their best possible quality of life.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.