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The most common allergies in cats

Cats commonly experience four types of allergies: insects (fleas), food allergies, atopic dermatitis (triggered by house dust, pollen, and moulds) and contact allergies. While they exhibit shared physical expressions and signs, each allergy type also presents unique features. If you believe your cat is showing signs of an allergy, then speaking to a vet at Blacks Vets to help you find a solution for making your cat more comfortable and improving their quality of life.

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Flea allergies

A cat suffering from flea allergies exhibits a severe reaction even to a single fleabite. This response is triggered by the proteins or antigens present in the flea's saliva. When a flea bites a cat to feed on blood, it injects saliva into the skin. A single fleabite can lead to intense itching, prompting the cat to vigorously scratch or chew itself, resulting in hair loss. This scratching may cause open sores or scabs on the skin, leading to a secondary bacterial skin infection (pyoderma). The area most affected is over the rump or the base of the tail. Additionally, the cat may display multiple small scabs around the head and neck.

Given that the reaction is triggered by flea saliva, the primary and crucial treatment for flea allergy is the prevention of fleabites. While flea infestations are more common in warmer weather, they can occur throughout the year. Establishing strict flea control measures forms the cornerstone of successful treatment.

Did you know…? Flea and worm treatment is included in our Pet Health for Life Plan?   Find out more here.

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Food allergies

Food allergies in cats result from an immune reaction to a specific food or food additive. Most commonly, the allergy develops in response to the protein component of the food, such as beef, pork, chicken or turkey. Vegetable proteins like those in corn and wheat, as well as food additives and preservatives, can also be culprits in some cases. Clinical signs of a food allergy may include itching, digestive disorders and respiratory distress, among others.

It is advisable to consider food allergy testing if clinical signs persist for several months, if the cat shows a poor response to medication, or if a very young cat exhibits itching without apparent causes.

If your cat's symptoms show improvement following a food trial, a presumptive diagnosis of a food allergy is established. Implementing a lifelong exclusive diet of hypoallergenic food often proves highly successful in treating allergic skin diseases related to food in many cats.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, or atopy, typically denotes allergic reactions to environmental allergens like pollens, grasses, moulds, mildew and house dust mites. Some of these allergies manifest seasonally, such as those triggered by ragweed, cedar and grass pollens. Meanwhile, others persist year-round, such as reactions to moulds, mildew and house dust mites.

The treatment strategy for a cat's allergy largely depends on the duration of the allergy season.

  1. The first approach may incorporate the use of corticosteroids, such as prednisolone, coupled with enhancing the health of the hair and skin coat through therapeutic applications like 'spot-on' treatments, sprays and/or shampoos. Steroids effectively suppress the allergic reaction in most cases, swiftly alleviating the cat's clinical signs. The administration of steroids can be oral or by injection, depending on the cat's condition.
  2. An alternative treatment for cats with atopy involves immunosuppressive drug therapy, such as cyclosporine (Atopica®). These medications specifically target the immune cells responsible for atopic dermatitis, aiming to diminish the hypersensitivity reaction occurring in the body. It may take up to 30 days to observe the maximum benefit of the drug. Consequently, it is not employed for sudden allergic flare-ups.

It's crucial to bear in mind that atopic dermatitis is a lifelong condition, and frequent relapses are common. There is no 'cure' for allergic skin disease; instead, treatments aim to alleviate clinical signs and enhance the quality of life for the affected individual.

Contact allergies

Examples of contact allergies in cats may manifest as reactions to substances like shampoos, flea collars, or specific types of bedding, such as wool. If your cat is allergic to these substances, skin irritation and itching will occur at the points of contact. Resolving the issue involves removing the contact irritant. Nevertheless, identifying the specific allergen can be challenging in many cases.

Symptoms of allergies in cats

If your cat has allergies, some of the most common allergic reactions can lead to the following behaviours, conditions and symptoms:

  • sneezing, coughing and wheezing
  • itchy, running eyes
  • ear infections
  • vomiting or diarrhoea
  • snoring
  • swollen, sensitive paws
  • excessive licking (grooming)
  • red or dry skin
  • scratching

Diagnosing your cat’s allergies

Treatment for cat allergies depends on your cat’s unique situation. Your vet will review your cat’s medical history and conduct a physical exam.

Cat allergy testing is carried out using either a blood test or a skin test. In a blood test, your vet or nurse will collect a sample of the cat’s blood and send it to a lab for evaluation. In a skin test, small injections are administered just under the cat's skin. If your cat is allergic to a specific substance, a hive will often appear on their body.

Neither test is inherently superior, and we may sometimes perform both tests to gain a comprehensive understanding of your cat's allergies. Once the vet identifies the cause of the allergic reaction, they can then prescribe the appropriate solution.

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Book your cat in for a health check and speak to one of our vets today for an allergy diagnosis and solutions for reducing symptoms so your cat can live more comfortably and you can manage their allergies.

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Read more >> Common allergies in dogs