Similar to their canine cousins, our cats can suffer from itchy, painful skin conditions due to allergies. Our West Salem vets discuss the causes of skin allergies in cats and how they may be treated. If your cat is suffering from a rash or itch that won't go away, read this post for tips on alleviating the condition and to learn more about our dermatology services for pets.
Types of Allergies in Cats
Is your cat suffering from an allergy? This means their immune system is hypersensitive or is overreacting to a specific substance. A substance that triggers an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Common allergens in humans include mold, food, dander and pollen.
An allergic reaction to a substance can result in three general types of symptoms:
- Skin - A cat with allergies may have itchy skin or a rash, either in a specific spot or more generalized across the body. In some cases, cat skin allergies may lead to scabs or open sores on the skin due to flea bites.
- Respiratory - Sneezing, coughing, wheezing and other respiratory issues including discharge from the nose and eyes may occur.
- Gastrointestinal - This third manifestation happens in the digestive system and may lead to flatulence, diarrhea and/or vomiting.
Different types of allergens can cause different reactions; parasites that live in or on the cat's body, allergens that trigger a reaction on contact, allergens that are ingested, and allergens that are inhaled.
In today's post, we'll review different causes of skin allergies in cats, associated symptoms and how they can be treated.
Causes of Skin Allergies in Cats & How They Are Treated
When it comes to cats suffering from allergies that affect their skin, the root causes will either be food allergies, environmental allergies or parasites.
When bitten by a flea, not all cats will scratch wildly, contrary to popular belief. In many cases, a flea bite will only cause a minor irritation. That said, if your cat is allergic to the antigens or proteins in flea saliva, just one bite could trigger a severe reaction that causes intense itching.
In many cases, this will lead to relentless scratching and your cat may remove large amounts of hair in the process. If your cat is allergic to flea bites, you might also notice scabs or open sores on the skin, especially at the base of the tail. These sores can lead to secondary bacterial skin infections.
Ideally, take preventive measures to keep fleas away from your pet so allergic reactions don't become an issue. If your pet has fleas, talk to your vet about flea control products and how to get rid of fleas on your cat. Your vet may prescribe corticosteroids (cortisone or steroids) to help block the allergic reaction and give your cat immediate itch relief. Your cat may need antibiotics if a secondary skin infection develops due to scratching.
If an allergen has come in direct contact with your cat's body, this may lead to patches of irritated skin. While contact allergies are not particularly common, when they do occur culprits can include shampoos, various materials that make up bedding, flea collars and more. While you may face a challenge in pinpointing the precise cause of your cat's allergy, it's worth the effort since removing or simply not using the allergen will easily and quickly clear up your cat's symptoms.
Food Allergies in Cats
Food allergies in cats are caused by an immune reaction to an ingredient or an additive in their food. Common food allergies for cats include chicken, turkey, and beef. Some vegetable proteins found in commercially produced cat foods may be problematic for some cats including corn and wheat, and for other cats, food additives and preservatives can lead to an allergic response. Food allergies can lead to itchy skin, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress.
For cats suspected of having a food allergy, an elimination or hypoallergenic diet is typically prescribed. These diets involve feeding your cat a diet consisting only of ingredients they have never previously eaten such as rabbit or venison and eliminating their regular food completely. To be effective these diets must be adhered to strictly. No cat treats (unless approved as part of the diet), and no sneaking any table scraps. Elimination diets must be adhered to for between 9-12 weeks in order to give your cat's body time to eliminate all traces of the problematic ingredient and start the recovery process.
Inhalant & Atopy Allergies
Inhalant and atopy allergies are those related to substances found in the environment such as ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites and pollutants such as cigarette smoke. In cats, reactions to these allergens can include severe itching across the body. It is common for cats with these allergies to be allergic to more than one substance so it can take patience to pinpoint the precise cause. While in many cases these allergies are seasonal much like hayfever in people, in other cases itching may be present year-round.
Treatment for these allergies largely depends on the severity of the allergy and whether it is seasonal. A hypoallergenic diet can be helpful in relieving symptoms and treatments can include:
- 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 important to note that many of the treatments for skin allergies in cats take time to take effect and are not appropriate for sudden flare-ups. Your veterinarian in will provide you with treatments for acute symptoms and for the long-term management of the condition.
While treatment can help to control and relieve symptoms in a cat with skin allergies, only preventing your cat from coming in contact with the allergen will cure the problem. This means that while your cat may live symptom-free for long periods of time, symptoms will likely recur periodically. Your vet will be able to help you and your cat deal with allergic reactions whenever they appear.
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.