A Guide to Cat Allergies: Dealing with an Itchy Kitty!

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allergic cat about to sneezeCat allergies are most commonly affect the skin, causing itchiness or scabs. Sadly, scratching and licking quickly lead to complications such as skin sores or infections. This means cat allergies are best treated early before the cat self-harms. This article looks at the causes and symptoms of cat allergies!

Allergies in Cats 101

Do cats get hay fever? Yes and no. Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. In people, hay fever causes sneezing, streaming eyes, and a sore throat. But cat allergies show up in different ways. A cat with hay fever is less likely to sneeze but instead is itchy, very very itchy, to the point of self-harm.

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts when to a foreign substance or allergen. In the example of hay fever, pollen is the allergen. What’s different with cat allergies is that allergens often trigger skin inflammation, rather than sneezing.

Whilst cat allergies most commonly affect the skin it’s important to rule out other causes of itchiness (such as parasites) before jumping to conclusions.

Allergies can’t be cured but can be controlled. A combination of avoiding the trigger factor, plus the timely use of medications will keep your cat comfortable.

Cat Allergy Medicine: Treating with CBD Oil

CBD oil for cats holds exciting possibilities for the treatment of many common conditions, including cat allergies. CBD oil is reputed to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

In the example of cat allergies, CBD oil may benefit the patient because of its ability to reduce skin inflammation. CBD oil may decrease that all-consuming itch, making the difference between a comfortable cat or one with badly damaged skin.

However, CBD oil is an area that urgently needs research to back up the anecdotal evidence. An early study into cat allergic skin disease indicates CBD oil has beneficial effects for inflamed, dry skin.  But whilst CBD oil has been studied in humans, there is woefully little research ongoing with pets.

As with any supplement or medication, speak to your vet before giving it to your cat. There may be interactions with other medications that could be dangerous.

So, What Causes Cat Allergies?

Anything in the environment has the potential to trigger an allergy. Just as some people have a peanut allergy, so a cat could react to, for example, dust mites or grass pollen.

Food Allergies in Cats

Food allergy in cats is a fascinating topic. The cat is often allergic to a specific protein in the diet, for example, before even chicken.

Food allergy is often linked to an upset tummy, but this isn’t always the case. Cats have a quirk where the allergy shows up as angry, inflamed skin, often on the head. These cats often don’t respond as well as expected to steroids.

But the good news is that eliminating the allergen from the diet has results that are close to a cure and without giving medication.

Cats and Dogs: Which Species is Most Prone to Allergies!

Heading the league table of pets most likely to get allergies are female dogs. They are followed by male dogs, with cats bringing up the rear.

In cats, by far the commonest allergy is to flea bite saliva. Even a single flea bite sets off a chain reaction in the skin which ends with itchiness and hundreds of tiny scabs. Whilst flea allergic dermatitis is common, thankfully it’s less common than in dogs.

Meowchuuu! From Cat Sneezing to Itching: Cat Allergy Symptoms

cat sneezing from cat allergies

The most common cat allergy symptoms affect the skin. But sometimes other body systems are affected, such as the gut or respiratory system. However, gut and respiratory allergies are not as common, so we’ll consider skin symptoms first.

Cat Allergy Symptoms: Skin

If one symptom was the poster-boy for skin allergies, it would be itchiness. Cat allergies cause intense skin irritation which leads to excessive scratching and licking.

Cats have tongues like sandpaper and sharp claws, so licking or scratching quickly damages the skin. This leads to secondary bacterial infections and added discomfort.

Also, licking literally rubs away the fur, leading to bald spots and ulcerated skin sores. And then there are the scabs. A common sign of a skin allergy is lots of sesame-seed size scabs scattered along the cat’s back.

Another sign is skin ulcers, sometimes called rodent ulcers. These can affect any part of the body, but most commonly the lips.

Cat Allergy Symptoms: Gut

This type of allergy can be related to food. An allergen in the diet causes inflammation of the gut lining. This interferes with the cat’s ability to digest food. The result is diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting.

Because the cat doesn’t digest food fully, this also leads to weight loss and a dry, scurfy coat.

Is Cat Dandruff a Sign of Allergies in Cats?

Indirectly, yes. Whilst the allergy itself doesn’t cause dandruff, it can be a complication. When the skin is in poor condition, either because of scratching or poor absorption of nutrients, then skin scale and flakes can occur.

Cat Allergy Symptoms: Respiratory System

When a cat predisposed to asthma inhales an allergen, this triggers spasm and inflammation of the lung lining. The result is feline asthma.

Is Your Cat Wheezing? Understanding What is Cat Asthma

Severe feline asthma is a potentially life-threatening condition. It is not normal to hear a cat breathing, so if they are wheezy, see a vet urgently.

In the case of asthma, inhaled allergens cause spasm of the airways. This narrows down the bronchi and makes it difficult for the cat to breathe. Treatment involves steroids, either by injection or inhalation.

Asthmatic cats are often sensitive to allergens in the environment, such as house dust mites, so it’s important to work with your vet to put a  prevention strategy in place.

Allergy Medicine for Cats: What Vets Recommend!

Steroids are commonly prescribed for cat allergies. Steroids are potent anti-inflammatories. Like throwing a fire-blanket over a raging fire, steroids can extinguish the heat and inflammation linked to allergies.

But steroids do have side effects such as increased thirst and appetite. This is why more recent medications, such as cyclosporine, are becoming popular. This medication switches off the over-active immune response to an allergy, to give the cat relief.

The closest to a cure is feeding a hypoallergenic diet to a cat with food allergies. In general cat, allergies can be controlled with medication so the cat doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

What is an Antihistamine for Cats?

To understand antihistamines means knowing a little about what causes itchiness.

When the skin encounters an allergen, this triggers a chemical cascade within the cells. One of the results is a release of histamine. If histamine had a nickname it would be ‘the itch hormone,’ because it causes intense itchiness.

This is why antihistamines are so popular for people with allergies. In humans, antihistamines are highly effective at canceling or blocking histamine from doing it’s itchy worst. Sadly,  the same can’t be said in cats.

The quirky physiology of cats means that antihistamines often give disappointing results. Long story short, don’t pin your hopes on antihistamines as a quick fix for an allergic cat.

cat itching in grass

Zyrtec for Cats aka a Cure to cat allergy

Zyrtec is the trade name for the antihistamine cetirizine. It is a human medication and not licensed for use in cats. This means you give it to a cat “at your own risk.”

Of all the antihistamines, cetirizine has the best reputation for getting to grips with cat itchy skin. This doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work, but it perhaps the best option to try.

Some studies looking at cetirizine use in cats suggest a dose of 5mg per cat is best.

Does it Work? Benadryl for Cats with Allergies

Benadryl, aka diphenhydramine, is another popular human antihistamine. Again, it’s a “Give at your own risk” scenario, as diphenhydramine isn’t licensed for use in cats.

It’s best to be aware that diphenhydramine can cause mild sedation as a side effect. So if your itchy kitty starts acting drunk after taking Benadryl, this could be why.

Got an Itchy Kitty? It may be Time to take them to the Vet!

It’s easy to assume a cat is itchy because of allergies. Whilst this may well be the case, it’s essential to get a diagnosis.

Other causes of itchiness, such as a parasitic infection or deep skin infection, have specific treatments. Targeting the underlying issue should get rid of the itchiness.

And if an allergy is confirmed, your vet is best placed to discuss the treatment options. From a hypoallergenic diet to modern anti-itch medicines, there are plenty of options to give relief from cat allergies.

Common Questions about Cat Allergy

Is there a cure for cat allergies?

My cat is itchy – Do they have an allergy?

Can I give my cat antihistamines?

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