What causes allergies in cats?

Cat allergies are caused by an over-reactive immune response to typically harmless substances in your cat's environment or food ingredients.

How can I tell if my cat is having an allergic reaction?

Common, observable signs of an allergic reaction in cats include red, itchy, watery eyes, hives, scratching ears or pawing at the face, itchy rashes, and runny nose or sneezing as well as vomiting and diarrhea.

How do veterinarians determine the cause of my cat's allergy symptoms?

Veterinarians perform food trials, skin testing, and blood tests to identify the cause of your cat's allergy symptoms.

What treatments are available for allergies in cats?

Treatment for allergies in cats consists of managing your cat's exposure to irritants and supportive care for their symptoms or weekly injections to boost their tolerance to known allergens.

Is there anything I can do to reduce the frequency of my cat's allergic reactions?

Limiting your cat's exposure to known allergens, keeping a dust-free environment, preventing your cat from going outside, and giving your cat vet-approved supplements are some of the ways you can reduce the frequency of your cat's allergic reactions.

Allergies may cause your cat to scratch and lick, even to the point of getting bald patches or wounds. They may also exhibit intestinal discomfort or symptoms like hay fever. Most allergic reactions in cats may present with mild symptoms but increase in severity over time or come on without a known cause. That's why it is important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the reason for your cat's allergy symptoms and develop an allergy management plan.

Symptoms of Allergies in Cats

When your cat's immune system overreacts to otherwise harmless substances in their environment, it is considered an allergic reaction. For instance, their immune system may respond to items like pollen, dust, or an ingredient in your cat's food as though they were pathogens like viruses or bacteria.

Histamine, which is released as part of the immune system's protective response, can cause inflammation, itching, or difficulty breathing as well as vomiting and diarrhea. This may manifest as conditions of the skin, digestive system, or upper respiratory system. The most common signs of allergies in cats are:

  • Itchy, inflamed skin.
  • Swelling, rashes, hives, bumps, or scabs.
  • Secondary bacterial or yeast infections of skin wounds caused by scratching.
  • Ear Infections.
  • Fur loss and hairballs.
  • Itchy, red, and watery eyes.
  • Runny nose and sneezing.
  • Mouth or lip ulcers.
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or other digestive distress.
  • Wheezing and coughing.

Anaphylactic reactions may cause facial swelling, vomiting or diarrhea, breathing difficulties, collapse, and even death. The good news is that anaphylactic reactions to seasonal, flea, or food allergies are rare. However, you should take your cat to a veterinarian right away if you notice any of these symptoms, particularly after a bee bite, vaccination, or new medicine.

Several allergy signs may be present in your cat at one time, or only one or two may be observable. However, any one of these signs, especially if they manifest, is enough to suspect allergies as the underlying cause. In such cases, it's recommended to visit your veterinarian so they can diagnose and treat your cat.

Types of Cat Allergies 

A range of allergies with mild to severe symptoms may affect many different parts of your cat's body. Some cats are hypersensitive to a wide range of allergens. while others may only experience one specific allergy. The most common types of cat allergies include:

  • Seasonal & Environmental Allergies. Pollen, molds, dust, mildew, dander, dust mites, and inhaled allergens are examples of environmental allergies that vary according to the season or region where your cat lives. 
  • Flea Allergy Dermatitis. Also known as FAD, this allergy is caused by contact with flea saliva which causes itching and may occur after as few as 1 to 2 flea bites.
  • Food Allergies. One or more ingredients may cause an allergic reaction in your cat, even if they have consumed that ingredient without issue for years, and can cause redness, irritation, and fur loss in addition to vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Contact Allergies. Contact with detergents, chemicals, and other substances along with smoke and some perfumes may trigger allergic reactions in cats that may include skin irritation or respiratory symptoms.

Most allergies are hereditary or genetic in nature. Unfortunately, this makes it challenging to prevent allergies. Any cat can experience allergies, regardless of age, and any cat breed can be susceptible.

Diagnosis of Allergies in Cats

Testing for the allergen(s) that trigger your cat's immune response may take time. However, any details you can give your veterinarian about what your cat is exposed to in their environment can help narrow your vet's search area and allow for a faster diagnosis. Your vet will perform diagnostic tests to help identify the cause of your cat's allergy symptoms such as:

  • Elimination diet testing to rule out food sensitivities.
  • Food trials to test for food allergens in your cat's diet.
  • Skin tests to identify possible food or environmental irritants.
  • Blood tests to check for antibodies from allergic reactions.

It takes a thorough investigation to determine what triggers your cat's allergy symptoms due to the fact that there is a wide range of allergens that can cause similar symptoms. 

Treatments for Allergies in Cats

If your cat's allergy is flea-related, it only takes a few bites from a flea to cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Year-round flea prevention is the best way to protect your pet from allergic reactions to flea saliva. Fleas have the ability to survive in even the coldest weather. Your veterinarian can recommend the best flea preventative for your cat.

If food allergies are the source of your cat's allergy symptoms, they must adhere to a strict diet consisting of foods that are unlikely to trigger allergy symptoms. Your veterinarian can assist you in locating substitute medications and hypoallergenic food that your cat is able to tolerate.

Environmental allergies and seasonal allergies are tricky since you can't regulate the pollen count, and environmental allergens are more difficult to manage. Depending on the severity of your cat's symptoms, seasonal allergies may require long-term therapies and drugs that are given either at regular intervals or only when an attack occurs.

Desensitization therapy is another option to explore if your cat has environmental allergies. This entails once-a-week injections personalized for your pet based on their allergy test. Minuscule amounts of your pet's allergens are present in the injections, which allows your cat to develop a tolerance. While it can take months for the injections to start working and not all cats will see a noticeable difference, it may still be worth the effort for cats with severe allergy symptoms.

Other interventions you might try to limit allergic reactions in your cat include:

  • Keep your cat inside.
  • Keep windows closed if the pollen count is high to avoid outdoor allergies.
  • Maintain a clean home, replace air filters frequently, and use dust-free litter.
  • Give supplements, such as probiotics or omega fatty acids, that benefit your cat's skin or allergies.
  • Utilize antihistamines like Benadryl only under the advice of your veterinarian and precisely as directed. 

Allergies are frustrating for both you and your cat. If you have the right allergy management plan, you can help your cat feel better. This plan can allow you and your cat to enjoy all their favorite activities without uncomfortable symptoms such as itchiness.

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