Allergies in Cats: Symptoms and Triggers
When a cat has allergies, her immune system is overly sensitive to certain everyday substances and begins to identify them as dangerous. Even though these substances-or allergens-are usually common in most environments and harmless to most animals, a cat with allergies will have an extreme reaction to them. As her body tries to rid itself of these substances, she may show a variety of symptoms.
What Are the General Symptoms of Allergies in Cats?
- Sneezing, coughing (if the cat has asthma), wheezing
- Itchy skin/increased scratching
- Itchy, runny eyes
- Itchy back or base of tail (most commonly seen in flea allergies)
- Itchy ears and ear infections
- Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
- Paw chewing/swollen paws
Can Cats Be Allergic to Food?
Cats who have allergies to what they eat will commonly scratch at their heads and necks, as well as have gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and vomiting. Food allergies may show up in cats at any age. Note: If you know your cat is specifically allergic to chicken, you should avoid feeding her any products containing chicken protein or fat. Which cats are at risk for getting allergies? All cats can be at risk for developing allergies. Cats who develop allergies have usually been exposed to substances- either airborne, in food, applied to their skin or transmitted by fleas-that they cannot tolerate. Those who spend time outdoors may be more prone to flea and pollen allergies. Overweight cats and those exposed to cigarette smoke can develop asthma.
What Are Cats Allergic To?
The following substances can cause allergic reactions in cats who are sensitive to them:
- Tree, grass, weed, mold, mildew and dust pollens
- Fleas and flea-control products
- Prescription drugs
- Cleaning products
- Cigarette smoke
- Rubber and plastic materials
Note: A flea allergy may only require a few flea bites to trigger intense itchiness for 2 to 3 weeks.
What Should I Do If I Think My Cat Has Allergies?
Visit your veterinarian. After taking a complete history and conducting a physical examination, your veterinarian may determine the source of your cat’s allergic reaction. If not, she or he will most probably recommend skin or blood tests and/or a special elimination diet, to find out what's causing the allergic reaction.
How Are Cat Allergies Diagnosed?
It’s important to see a veterinary dermatologist for an allergy test if your cat has itchy or irritated skin. The test of choice is an intradermal skin test, as blood allergy tests are not considered as reliable.
The only way to diagnose a food allergy is to feed your cat a prescription or hydrolyzed protein diet exclusively for 12 weeks─that means no flavored medications or treats. This diet will be free of potential allergy-causing ingredients and will ideally have ingredients your cat has never been exposed to before. Your cat will remain on the diet until her symptoms go away, at which time you’ll begin to reintroduce old foods to see which ones might be causing the allergic reaction.
Please note, many cats diagnosed with a food allergy will require home-cooked meals, but this must be done in conjunction with your veterinarian as it requires a special protein and careful food balancing.