Beyond 9 Lives: Cats Have Allergies Too

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This is a sponsored post by veterinarian Elizabeth Arguelles, owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. She writes weekly on Reston Now.

Did you know that cats can suffer from environmental allergies? Understanding what your cat is allergic to can help you to limit their exposure to these allergens and improve their quality of life and comfort. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be writing how to define and diagnose allergies, how to identify different types, and how to prevent and treat them.

What is an allergy?

An allergy means that your cat’s immune system has become more sensitive to certain everyday substances and, as a result, has started to identify them as dangerous. Allergens might include pollens, animal dander, mold spores, dust mites and even certain foods. Most of these are found throughout your house or yard, but they are not usually harmful to cats or other animals. However, if your kitty is allergic to any of them, its body will try to rid itself of the offending substance and show moderate to severe adverse reactions in response.

What are the most common allergens found in your home?

Fleas are amongst the most common allergens. Prescription drugs, perfumes and air fresheners, cleaning products, cigarette smoke, fabrics, rubber and plastic materials are other frequent causes of allergies in cats.

In addition to those, your cat could be sensitive to various trees, grasses, weeds, dust mites, storage mites or pollens.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

  •  Sneezing, coughing or wheezing (if the cat has asthma)
  • Itchy skin/increased scratching or over-grooming
  • Itchy or runny eyes
  •  Itchy back or base of the tail. The latter can be an indicator of flea allergies.
  • Sores on the body from excessive scratching
  • Scratching ears and possible infections
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Snoring caused by blocked nasal passages or an inflammation of the throat
  • Unexplained hair loss

With repeated exposure to the allergens, your cat may over time experience changes in its skin texture and/or unexplained hair loss.

Unfortunately, most of these symptoms are not exclusive to allergic reactions. Your veterinarian will likely first run blood work and other diagnostic tests to rule out other conditions or diseases that could be causing the symptoms, including parasites (fleas, lice, mites, as well as intestinal parasites), bacterial and yeast infections of the skin, and some metabolic diseases.

Once it has been established that your cat is not suffering from any other diseases, your vet may check for allergies with an intradermal skin test or with an environmental allergy blood panel. If you opt to do the environmental allergy blood panel, your vet can discuss immunotherapy shots or oral drops that can be compounded for your cat to treat their specific allergies.

Treating environmental allergies also takes a big commitment from the owner. Depending on what your cat is environmentally allergic to, you’ll need to reduce or eliminate the allergens that affect your cat in your home which could include certain cleaning or air freshening products, storage mites, or dust mites.

Food allergies are typically diagnosed by feeding your cat a prescription limited protein or hydrolyzed diet for 12 weeks without any flavored medication or treats. There is also a food allergy blood panel that can test for common food allergies, but frequently veterinarians will recommend the diet trial instead. Next week we’ll go into more detail about limited ingredient diets, hydrolyzed proteins, and food allergy testing.

Talk to your veterinarian about whether your cat could benefit from allergy testing. It can be helpful to know what your cat is environmentally allergic to so you can better understand how to control the symptoms and hopefully improve the quality of life for your furry companion.


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