Much like their canine cousins, cats can suffer from itchy, painful skin conditions caused by allergies. Here, our Corpus Christi vets explain some causes of skin allergies in cats and how they can be treated.
Cats With Skin Allergies
If your cat has an allergy, it means that its immune system is overreacting or that it is hypersensitive to a specific substance. An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. Food, pollen, dander, and mold are some of the most common allergens in humans.
An allergic reaction to a substance can lead to 3 general types of symptoms:
- Skin - Itching of the skin, either in a specific spot or more generalized all over your cat's body. These cat skin allergies can include a rash and/or scabs.
- 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.
These different reactions are caused by different types of allergens; 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 skin allergies in cats, 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.
Contact allergies can occur in some cats, causing patches of irritated skin wherever the allergen has come into direct contact with the cat's body. Flea collars, shampoos, and various materials used to make bedding, among other things, are common contact allergens. While pinpointing the exact cause of your cat's allergy can be difficult, it's worth the effort because removing or simply not using the allergen will clear up your cat's symptoms quickly and easily.
Contrary to popular belief, not all cats scratch incessantly when bitten by a flea. A flea bite is often only a minor annoyance. However, if your cat is allergic to the proteins or antigens in flea saliva, even a single bite can cause a severe reaction with intense itching. In many cases, this will cause your cat to scratch or chew at its skin, removing a lot of hair in the process. If your cat is allergic to flea bites, you may notice open sores or scabs on his skin, especially at the base of his tail. Secondary bacterial skin infections can result from these sores.
The best way to treat this allergy is to keep fleas well away from your pet. If your pet has fleas, speak to your vet about various flea control products and how to rid your cat of fleas. Corticosteroids (cortisone or steroids) can be prescribed by your vet to help block the allergic reaction and give your cat immediate relief from itchiness. Antibiotics may be required if your cat has a secondary skin infection due to scratching.
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.
An elimination or hypoallergenic diet is typically prescribed for cats suspected of having a food allergy. These diets involve feeding your cat only ingredients they have never eaten before, such as rabbit or venison, and eliminating their regular food. These diets must be strictly followed to be effective. There will be no cat treats (unless approved as part of the diet) or sneaking table scraps. Elimination diets must be followed for 9-12 weeks to allow your cat's body to eliminate all traces of the problematic ingredient and begin the recovery process.
Inhalant & Atopy Allergies
Inhalant and atopy allergies are those caused by environmental substances such as ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites, and pollutants such as cigarette smoke. Allergic reactions in cats can cause severe itching all over the body. It is common for cats with these allergies to be allergic to more than one substance, so determining the precise cause can take time. While these allergies are often seasonal, similar to hay fever in humans, itching may be present all year.
Treatment for these allergies largely depends on the severity of the allergy and whether it is seasonal. A hypoallergenic diet can help relieve 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 vet will provide you with treatments for acute symptoms and the long-term management of the condition.
While treatment can help control and relieve your cat's symptoms, only avoiding contact with the allergen will cure the problem. This means that, while your cat may be symptom-free for extended periods, symptoms will most likely recur regularly. Your veterinarian will be able to assist you and your cat in dealing with allergic reactions as they arise.
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.