Allergies in cats occur when a cat has an immunologic hypersensitivity reaction to a specific environmental, contact or food allergen.
How Allergies Affect Cats
The signs of allergies in cats are skin inflammation, constant itching, continual grooming, restlessness, increased number of ingested hair balls, skin pustules, hot spots and coughing, vomiting, wheezing or diarrhea. In some cases, cats develop areas of small crusty scabs and lesions. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections on the skin may cause additional skin wounds, increased incidences of ear infections and a foul yeasty smell on the cat's skin.
Causes of Allergies in Cats
Most allergies in cats result from external parasites (especially fleas), contact with or inhalation of particular allergens or ingestion of allergens in food.
Preventing Allergies in Cats
There is no real way to "prevent" allergies, other than avoiding the particular allergens that cause the hypersensitivity reaction. There are ways to treat allergies in cats, including removal of known allergens and using prescription medications and shampoos to treat inflamed and irritated skin. Prescription oral or injectable medications may also be used to suppress the allergic immune reaction if the cause of the allergy cannot be determined.
The diagnosis of allergies in cats normally is done through assessment of the cat's symptoms, medical history, blood tests and response to treatment. A skin patch test also may be performed to determine what specific allergens are causing the cat's symptoms. The prognosis for cats with allergies is very good. Once the allergen is removed from the cat's environment, the symptoms and irritations should decline. In severe cases, long term prescription medications may be necessary to suppress the immunologic reactions.
Cats, like people, can suffer from allergies, but the signs in cats normally do not involve watery eyes and sneezing. Instead, most allergies in cats affect their skin. The symptoms can become so severe that the cat becomes extremely agitated and uncomfortable.
Symptoms of Allergies in Cats
Allergies in cats may be mild or may cause extreme discomfort, agitation, depression and a predisposition to secondary bacterial infections. Itching, scratching and licking are among the first signs of feline allergies. The itchiness may be all over the body, or it may be focused on areas around the ears, neck and groin. Hair loss around the ears, neck, groin and base of the tail may occur. In severe cases, cats may develop thick, inflamed, red and/or crusty lesions in affected areas, which are prone to developing secondary bacterial infections. These allergic symptoms are usually caused by hypersensitivity reactions to insect bites, external parasites or inhalation of or contact with environmental allergens. Many of these symptoms are seasonal, and cat owners may notice that the signs worsen during the Spring and Summer.
If food allergies are the culprit, the clinical signs may be a bit different. Instead of primarily skin signs, the cat may display gastrointestinal symptoms that include vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. In many cases, the food allergy may remain undiagnosed for years; owners often think that their cat simply has a "sensitive stomach."
Thankfully, there are a number of treatments available that can help your cat to lead a more comfortable, allergy free, life.