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Cat Allergies, from Will Draper, DVM

02/18/2011

  • Will Draper, DVM:

    Here’s another question from the Pet Community Board. My cat keeps biting and scratching at its tail so that scabs are forming. What could cause it? Who would like to take that one? You get three guesses and the first two don’t count.

  • Anne Wingo:

    I would bet fleas might be a problem.

  • Will:

    Perfect. Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner. Yeah, fleas -- generally if it’s near the back or the base of the tail, it’s always fleas. Fleas love to accumulate there. And cats and a lot of dogs have an actual allergy -- it’s a very common thing -- to flea saliva. So the flea bites them, and the saliva gets in their bloodstream and then makes them itch all over. They’ll start to get scabs on their ears and around their neck and it can be simply from a bite near the base of their tail. So, a lot of times these pets have to be treated with medication such as antihistamines or cortisones to help break the cycle of the allergy. But, of course, the number one treatment for it is to control the fleas. And with cats, what type of flea preventives do you use for your cats? Do you use topical or oral? Have you used anything like that before?

  • Otto Ojevarr:

    Yeah, I used the once-per-month topical treatment.

  • Will:

    Very good. And that’s probably the more common one. Again, they also have once-per-month topicals that help with heartworms, as well. So that’s a very good choice, too, because cats can be bitten by mosquitoes as well, and have allergies to that. But the main issue with that is problems protecting against heartworms.

  • Anne:

    Dr. Will, can you tell me how you would recognize a food allergy in your cat?

  • Will:

    There are a couple of ways. One of the more common ways is with vomiting and loose stool. You know, GI issues or gastrointestinal signs, as you will. But cats can also express food allergies with hair loss and their skin. They can break out into hives, get splotches on their skin, itch a lot -- you know, similar to people and dogs.

  • Anne:

    Would sneezing? Would sneezing maybe be, or no?

  • Will:

    With cats, not very often. You can see it, but it's not very common for cats to express a food allergy in such a way. That's more common with some type of inhalant allergy, or what's called atopic allergy. So, yeah. But generally, it's going to be gastrointestinal or skin. And the thing to do is – they have hypoallergenic diets for cats who have these issues, that work real well to prevent that.

  • Otto:

    So Dr. Will, if your cat starts sneezing a lot, is that a sign of an allergy?

  • Will:

    That can be a sign of an allergy. That can be a sign of something they've inhaled that doesn't agree with them. It can be pollen, it can be some type of smoke, molds, things of that nature. But it can also be a sign that your cat has a virus. And there are certain viruses that cats can be exposed to when they're young, that they carry with them throughout life. And what will happen, every few months they'll go through it -- a bout of sneezing and congestion, and they just have to wait out the cycle of that virus. You just control the symptoms.

Pet Health and Nutrition Advice

Veterinarian Will Draper gives tips on the best nutrition and health care for your dog or cat.
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