Everyone knows that people can be allergic to cats, but did you know that cats can have allergies too? It's true! Cats, just like people, can suffer from a wide range of allergies. It is estimated that up to 15% of all cats in the U.S. suffer from one or more allergies. Here is what you need to know about cats and allergies.


Types of Allergies

The causes of cat allergies can fall into several categories. These include:

Inhalant allergies - caused by airborne articles, such as pollen, that irritate the nasal passages and lungs. Inhalant allergies, also known as atopy, can be caused by all of the same allergens that affect humans. These allergens include dust and dust mites, cigarette smoke, perfume, household sprays and air fresheners, pollens, mold and mildew. Cats may also be allergic to the dust created from kitty litter. While humans usually show respiratory symptoms with atopy, cats almost always show allergic reactions through their skin. Inhalant allergies in cats usually cause itching of the face and miliary dermatitis, consisting of small scabs over various body areas. These symptoms usually occur seasonally, lasting less than 4 months at a time, and usually begins when the pet is from 1 to 3 years old.
Contact allergies - occur when a cat has prolonged contact with a substance that it just cannot tolerate. Contact allergies can be caused by a number of substances in the environment which your pet comes in contact with. Substances which can cause allergic contact dermatitis include certain topical medications metals such as nickel; materials such as rubber, wool, and plastic; and chemicals such as dyes and carpet deodorizers. Flea collars, flea sprays, various topical powders, plants (especially oily-leafed ones, such as rubber plants, that might be brushed against) and shampoos can also cause contact allergies.
Food allergies - result from the grains, meats and dairy products included in cat food. Food allergies account for about 10% of all the allergies seen in cats. It is the third most common cause of allergies after flea bite allergies and atopy. A food allergy doesn't show up overnight. It can take from a week to 10 years of exposure to show itself; more than 80 percent of cats with food allergies have been eating the allergen-containing food for more than two years. Like contact allergies, food allergies will show up as dermatitis and severe itching but in some cases will also cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Flea allergies - are the most common of all allergies and occurs when the saliva of a flea is deposited in the skin after a bite. Flea bite allergies are characterized by being a seasonal allergy that is worse during peak flea times in the summer and fall. As cats age, their sensitivity to flea bites increases. Cats can develop tiny scabs around the neck, face, groin, and trunk of the body.
Drug allergies - some cats react badly to certain drugs, such as antibiotics or anesthesia. Medications that commonly cause skin eruptions: penicillin, tetracycline, neomycin and panleukopenia vaccine. Each drug causes different symptoms, but the symptoms differ from cat to cat. There is no way to predict how a cat will react to a particular drug.


Symptoms of Allergies

Symptoms to look for:

  • Persistent scratching
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Loss of hair
  • Infection
  • Scaly or scabby skin
  • Miliary dermatitis (crusty papules)
  • Pulling out tufts of hair
  • 'Twitchy' skin
  • Mutilated skin


Diagnosing Allergies

Diagnosis for allergies is based on suspecting cause:

Inhalant allergies - The diagnosis of atopy is usually made from history, clinical signs, skin or blood testing, and response to therapy.
Contact allergies - The history and physical exam can often indicate what is going on. Diagnosis is sometimes made from obvious exposure history, or by reducing or eliminating the cat's contact to suspected substances.
Food allergies -Testing for food allergies include blood tests and skin testing. Unfortunately, these tests tend to be unreliable. Often times, withholding certain food items, or simply changing the pet's diet to a hypo-allergenic or restricted diet can be diagnostic, and is the treatment for such cases as well. Response to diet change can take from 6 to 8 weeks for results to be seen.
Flea allergies -Diagnosis can be made by visual signs in combination with the presence of fleas or through intra-dermal skin testing.
Drug allergies - drug allergies are diagnosed by history of symptoms following the administration of a the offending drug.


Treatment of Allergies

Inhalant allergies - Treatments include removing the offending agents from the pet's environment, anti-itch medications such as antihistamines or steroids (given by mouth or applied topically), and in some cases desensitizing the pet to the offending agents causing the allergic reaction (Allergy shots).
Contact allergies - The first line of treatment is avoiding the offending agent or agents. Fatty acids, antihistamines, biotin, and topical shampoos can be used to control the itching.
Food allergies -The treatment for food allergies is avoidance. Once the offending ingredients have been identified through a food trial, then they are eliminated from the diet. Short-term relief may be gained with fatty acids, antihistamines, and steroids, but elimination of the products from the diet is the only long-term solution.
Flea allergies - Treatments include removing fleas from the pet and environment with medications applied directly on the pet or given by mouth, agents applied to the environment, and anti-itch medications (given by mouth, applied topically, or both).
Drug allergies - Treatment of drug allergies includes immediately stopping the offending drug. Antihistamines or steroids may be used to help alleviate symptoms.

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