Every cat has an immune system that fights off harmful substances (bacteria and viruses) with antibodies and protects its host from the enemies. But sometimes, just like in humans, a cat’s immune system can be overly sensitive and mistake completely harmless proteins for dangerous substances. This is when your kitty will develop an allergic reaction.
Did you know that, according to Allergy UK, the UK’s leading medical charity dealing with allergies, pets represent the second most important cause of home allergies in humans? And cats allergies seem to be twice as common as dog allergies! If you or your loved one is suffering from cat allergies, please read this article.
What is an allergic reaction?
When an oversensitive immune system mistakes harmless proteins for dangerous and attacks them with antibodies, this is called an allergic reaction. These harmless environmental substances that trigger allergic reactions are called allergens.
One of the prominent contributors to all allergic reactions is histamine, and its levels have been noted to rise during allergic responses. Mainly stored in mast cells and basophils, histamine is a nitrogenous compound that is, among other functions, involved in immune and inflammatory responses.
Most common allergies among cats
Just like humans, cats can develop allergies to many different things. However, it is important to remember that feline allergies are not expressed in the same ways as they are in people. In fact, cat’s allergies rarely ever come in the form of respiratory issues, unless their immune system is compromised (i.e. due to a viral infection or age), or they have certain respiratory complications such as asthma.
Cats usually don’t experience a runny nose and watering eyes like us, but their allergies usually come in the form of atopic dermatitis instead. You may notice red spots or rashes on the skin (primarily bellies, nose and paws), reddened eyes and even a reddened anus. The affected cats will also itch – A LOT. Most commonly, cats react to certain food allergens, pollen, fleas, diverse household allergens, plastic bowls, perfumes and different drugs.
1. Food allergies
“Food allergies account for about 10% of all the allergies seen in cats. Following flea bite allergies and inhalant allergies, food allergies account for nearly 60% of an increase in itching and scratching in cats.” – Canna-Pet.
Cats can react to so many diverse food ingredients. It is very important to remember that cats can develop food allergies at any point in their life, even if they have been eating the same food for years. A cat with a food sensibility will show signs such as skin irritations, gastrointestinal difficulties (i.e. diarrhea, nausea, intestinal gas) or even ear infections.
If you notice signs like these and you want to diagnose a food allergy, it is recommendable to switch your feline’s diet to a novel ingredient diet or hydrolyzed food with nothing else but water for a month or even two. If the symptoms go away during this period, then your cat reacted to something in its old diet. At this point, you want to slowly introduce standard ingredients one by one, carefully watching your cat until you diagnose what exactly your cat reacts to.
Most commonly diagnosed food allergies among cats are dairy, eggs, wheat gluten, meat by-products, corn, eggs, soy, artificial coloring and preservatives (list by Canna-Pet).
2. Allergies to pollen
Pollen allergies, just like in humans, are usually seasonal. Cats can react to grass, weed or tree pollen and they will excessively itch, lick and chew their skin which can lead to severe skin damage. Unfortunately, these allergies often get stronger with age, and it is therefore highly recommendable to pay a visit to the vet who can conduct an allergy test and determine what exactly the cat reacts to and how the allergy can be treated.
3. Flea allergies
Flea allergies are the most common allergy among cats. This condition is often referred to as flea bite hypersensitivity or flea allergic dermatitis. They can occur after being bitten by a flea just once or twice. Cats with flea allergies will itch and bite their skin and coat very aggressively so it is fairly easy to recognize this problem.
The best treatment is to keep your cat free of fleas. Comb your cat with a flea comb regularly to inspect for possible parasites and use long-term flea control medications. Please remember that you should never use canine flea control treatments as they are often very dangerous for cats.
4. Household allergies
Indoor allergies are expressed similarly as seasonal allergies, only they’re present all year long. Your cat may react to dust, mold or household mites. To determine if your cat suffers from an allergy such as these, you may want to consider conducting an allergy test at the vet’s office. It is fairly easy to control these allergies. Clean frequently and thoroughly, vacuum, dedust, use air filters and brush your cat regularly. Brushing your cat will remove the dust and dirt from its coat that may be making the allergy worse.
Perfumes are very common ingredients in many products such as i.e. cat litter, air refreshers and countless cleaning products. You will notice irritable cats sneezing or itching right after being in contact with such items. Switching to unscented products or hypoallergenic variants usually eliminates the problem.
Surprisingly, drug allergies are not that common in cats. “Drug allergies are relatively rare in cats, but any individual can have an adverse reaction to a particular drug without warning. Symptoms vary but can include itching, hives, fever, vomiting, hair loss (topical products) and in severe cases anaphylaxis, which may cause difficulty breathing, collapse, seizures and death. If you suspect that your cat is reacting poorly to a medication or have any other concerns about your cat’s health, call your veterinarian immediately.” – explained Jennifer Coates from Pet MD.
If you notice that your cat has certain skin irritations, eye, nose or anus redness, if it excessively itches, licks and bites itself, it is highly recommendable to pay a visit to the vet who will help you determine the source of the problem. An allergic kitty can also experience respiratory issues, sneezing, coughing and wheezing, especially if its asthmatic. Itchy and runny eyes and ear infections are other possible symptoms of cat allergies.
To diagnose an allergy, it’s possible to take allergy tests and pinpoint what exactly the cat is sensitive to. There are two types of allergy tests: skin testing and blood testing. Skin tests are usually cheaper and give results faster. In this test, the cat is typically tested for several allergens at the time and the positive reactions to allergens appear as red, itchy bumps on the skin. Blood testing includes drawing a blood sample and testing it for antibodies to common allergens. The results take longer and the test tends to be more expensive, but it is considered to be safer, more precise and pain-free.
Some allergies can be prevented with preventative measures. Avoiding food allergens, keeping your cat flea free and rigorously cleaning your house from dust are all ways to reduce allergic reactions in cats that are sensitive to these specific allergens. If your cat suffers from seasonal allergies and it’s not a strictly indoor cat, it is recommendable to try and reduce the outdoor time during the seasons with highest levels of pollen your cat is allergic to. In some cases of seasonal and/or indoor allergies, veterinarians can also prescribe fatty acid supplements, anti-histamines, immuno-suppressive drugs and other treatments to help manage the symptoms.
Does your cat have any allergies? How did you recognize the symptoms? Please, share with the rest of our community so we can all provide better care for our favorite pets!