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It’s officially spring, and flowers and trees everywhere are letting us know it. If you’re like me, you’re already reaching for the antihistamines and stocking up on kleenex - all while cursing the reproductive cycle of our planet’s plant life. And your cat might be in awful discomfort right there with you.

That’s right: cats can suffer from seasonal allergies, too! They can also suffer from food and flea allergies. If you think you’re miserable with hay fever, at least you know what’s going on. Your cats rely on you noticing something’s up and helping them get through all the awful symptoms allergies have to offer. 

TYPES OF ALLERGIES

Broadly speaking, there are three categories that cat allergies most often fall into:

Flea allergies: this one’s pretty self-explanatory. Cats can be allergic to fleas, with just one or two bites being enough to trigger an allergic reaction that can last weeks. This is one of the most common allergies in cats.

Environmental allergies: your cat can be allergic to any number of substance in your home or environs. This could be an allergy to grass or pollinating weeds, trees and flowers. Or perhaps dust and mold. Or even certain chemicals you use to clean your house, or fragrances in your perfume or laundry detergent. Even the dust from certain types of litter might be triggering an allergic reaction! (Seasonal allergies to pollen and the like are the other most common form of feline allergy.)

Food allergies: your cat may be allergic to a specific ingredient in their food, leading to allergic reactions and gastrointestinal distress. Related, they could be allergic to the plastic of certain food and water bowls.

SYMPTOMS OF FELINE ALLERGIES

The symptoms of allergies in your kitties are just what you’d expect - and most often what you yourself experience when suffering from allergies!

If your cat has any of the following symptoms, they may be experiencing an allergic reaction:

  • Sneezing, coughing, or wheezing
  • Scratching more often or over-grooming (itchy skin)
  • Itchy and runny eyes
  • Chin acne
  • Hives
  • Snoring (caused by swollen throat)
  • Sensitive or swollen paws, or chewing on their paws
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Increased scratching and skin reactions are among the most common symptoms for cats suffering from allergies. In allergic reactions caused by flea bites, you’ll notice the itchiness is most often along their back and at the base of their tail. In food allergies, they’ll more often scratch their neck.

As always, if you suspect your cat is in any distress, you should take them to see your vet as soon as possible. (Allergic reactions, particularly coughing or wheezing, can increase the frequency of asthma attacks if your cat has asthma.)

DIAGNOSING CAT ALLERGIES

When you see your vet, they will most likely perform a comprehensive physical exam and take a complete history of your fuzzy friend. This data helps them determine any obvious allergies and rule out other concerns. If they’re unable to determine an allergy from this process, they may recommend you have further testing done or do a special elimination diet.

Further testing could involve skin or blood tests, and you may need to see a specialist such as a veterinary dermatologist. The elimination diet often involves a prescribed special food that you give your kitty for several weeks before slowly adding items from her old diet back and observing her for an allergic reaction. This method should reveal what food she might be allergic to.

TREATMENT OF ALLERGIES

The treatment for your cat’s allergies all depends on what kind they have! If they’re allergic to fleas, you need to be all about prevention: follow a regimen of flea medication to keep them flea-free. If they’re allergic to a particular food, don’t feed them that stuff (this may mean becoming your cat’s personal chef!). If they suffer from environmental allergies, you need to be proactive in keeping your home as free from those allergens as possible. Keep your air filters changed, dust and vacuum regularly, use dust-free litter, etc. Keep your cats brushed and give them a quick waschloth-bath to get allergens off their fur.

In certain cases, your veterinarian may also prescribe a medication like corticosteroids, antihistamines (like benadryl) or even allergy injections. When they’re having severe skin reactions or if they’ve scratched themselves raw and gotten a skin infection, you may also need to bathe them with calming shampoos or apply antibiotics. Your vet will let you know.

WHY DO CATS GET ALLERGIES?

“But why does my cat have to suffer?!” I hear you crying, because I have said the same thing when Tiger Jack gets acne on his chin or my brother’s kitty Nyx gets hives around his nose.

The answer is that sometimes our bodies - our immune systems - decide a certain substance is dangerous and attacks that substance whenever we inhale it or eat it or get it into our system some other way. That’s true for us and for our feline friends!

We can’t control how our body responds to something, but we can control our exposure to likely allergens. Outdoor cats are more likely to be allergic to pollinating plants than indoor cats are because they’re exposed to them more often. The best thing we can do for our kitties is to be observant and to be proactive.

Do for your cats what you’d do for yourself, and we’ll all be on track to a less-itchy world!

Written by Deborah Brannon