Skin Allergies in Cats: What Every Pet Parent Should Know

If you own a cat, you may already know that your feline can be every bit as sensitive to allergens as humans can. They can react to outside allergens no matter the source, whether they are environmental, parasite-related, or even diet-related.

Most often, their reaction to allergens is itching, sometimes excessively so, and often it’s the only sign your cat will give you alerting you that something is wrong. It should come as no surprise that everything that can cause allergies in humans can also cause allergies in cats.

Common Allergens in Cats

Some of the most common allergens found in cats are:

  • Grass and weed pollens
  • Trees
  • Fabrics
  • Plastics and rubber
  • Dairy
  • Foods
  • Additives
  • Dust and house mites
  • Flea saliva

When a cat encounters one of these allergens, either by ingesting or inhaling it or even just touching it, it can cause an inflammatory response in his immune system. When this happens, your cat may itch in response to the release of chemicals in its body.

In most cases, allergies develop over an extended period of time, after repeated exposures to the allergen. Sometimes the allergens are seasonal, like certain tree pollens.

The exception to this is usually an insect bite, as allergies from an insect bite can develop much faster. Interestingly, allergies are a learned behavior of the immune system, and that learned behavior can be passed down genetically through generations of cats.1

For most felines, allergies tend to develop early on, usually starting anywhere from age 1 to 3.2 Sometimes they can start later, but it’s much rarer. The difficulty with allergies is that once a cat develops one, it’s common to begin to develop more, and the allergic response can become even more severe over time.

Some of the symptoms of allergies that you may notice in your cat are:

  • Hair loss
  • “Twitchy” skin
  • Pulling out hair “tufts”
  • Mutilations and lesions
  • Hot spots
  • Crusty sores

Unfortunately, this is because when your cat gets itchy, they will lick, scratch, and bite at the offending areas, sometimes so much so that they harm themselves.

When your cat displays behaviors like these, it’s called excessive grooming. Your cat will often do this in secret, or when you’re not looking, so it can be difficult to catch on to. Because of these compulsions, cats often wind up developing secondary infections because of the trauma they inflict upon their skin.

For most cats, allergies tend to be seasonal or related to inhalants such as house mites and dust mites. The best course of action is to take your cat to the vet so that they can run some allergy tests, and then begin to remove the things that are suspected to be an issue from your cat’s diet or environment and see if his health improves.

Food Allergies are the third most common allergy in felines.3 Itchy, irritated skin, and hair loss are the most common symptoms of a food allergy in cats, although gastrointestinal symptoms may affect your pet. The most common food allergies are related to the protein and carbohydrates compounds in your cat’s diet. These common allergens include dairy, fish, chicken, and beef.

By process of elimination, you should be able to at least narrow down the source of the allergy. Sometimes allergens can be suppressed with medications for several weeks. That will take care of the problem for a while, at least until the next year rolls around.

However, there are other allergens that are not seasonal, so they never completely disappear despite all your best efforts. In this case, your cat could undergo a variety of treatment options and doctor visits and still never fully resolve the problem.

Thankfully, while you can’t always eliminate all potential allergens from your cat’s life, you can take steps to reduce them significantly. You can also use topical treatments such as anti-itch creams, steroids, and even steroid injections. Shampoos and rinses also sometimes help improve your cat’s skin and coat health, along with other treatment methods such as antihistamines and omega-3 fatty acids.

Ultimately, you know your pet best, and only you can decide whether something is wrong and whether it warrants a visit to the vet. It can be frustrating trying to pinpoint exactly what is causing your cat so much distress, but once you’ve pinned down the culprit and eradicate it, it is well worth it.

Then you get to watch your cat begin to flourish again. His hair will grow back nice and shiny, and he will be purring in bliss, with no itching, biting, or chewing in sight!

Shop Skin & Coat Nutritional Supplements For Cats Here:

-Shop Our Website-

-Shop Amazon-

References

1 https://www.acttallergy.com/allergy-facts/feline-allergies/

2 http://www.catsexclusive.com/educational-resources/atopy

3 http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/foodallergies.cfm

Why Is My Cat Itching So Much?

Cats by instinct and nature are groomers. They love to clean themselves and lick their fur. However, if you aren’t careful, sometimes these behaviors could become compulsive.

Most often though, compulsive licking, scratching, and chewing occurs with certain breeds, such as the Siamese.

If your cat has never engaged in these behaviors before but is suddenly now licking, scratching, and chewing himself, it may not be so much a compulsion, but a reaction to an unknown underlying feline skin condition.

When cats over-groom themselves, they can end up losing their fur and create issues such as irritation and hotspots, open wounds, scabs, inflammation, and infections.

Unfortunately, until your cat starts showing visible signs like some of the above, it can be difficult to figure out whether your cat is engaging in normal grooming behaviors or excessive ones! Oddly enough, cats like to do their grooming business when no one is looking (we’ll call it top secret grooming), so it’s easy to miss when a behavior is becoming out of control.

Another problem in figuring out why your cat may be itching is because feline skin diseases can mimic each other in many ways and present with similar symptoms. So sometimes just looking and visually inspecting your cat doesn’t give you many answers or help you figure out the underlying cause of their itching. Here’s a quick overview of some of the more noticeable symptoms of itchy kitties.

Common Signs of Itching in Cats

  • Excessive scratching, itching, biting, and chewing, to the degree that causes damage to the skin.
  • Hair loss, often in a symmetrical pattern.
  • Dandruff coupled with a greasy looking skin and coat. These symptoms could indicate miliary dermatitis.
  • Skin lesions and ulcers that can affect various parts of the cat’s body as well as develop inside their mouth.

Unfortunately, once your cat begins to develop visually obvious signs like skin lesions, healing can take quite a long time.

That’s why it’s important to try to catch these signs and symptoms as early on as possible, so you can begin treatment right away and prevent further skin damage in your fur baby.

Skin Conditions that Cause Itching in Cats

Environmental Allergies

A cat that suffers from environmental allergies will often show signs and symptoms early on in his life. For instance, he may experience symptoms at the change of seasons, and then you may notice as time goes on that his symptoms seem to get worse and last longer.

Sometimes your cat can suffer from indoor allergens like dust mites. If this is the case, he can have allergy problems all year long, not just seasonally. Occasionally cats may even be allergic to cleaning products that you use in your home, or litter that contains perfume.

It can be difficult to pin down exactly what’s plaguing your cat, but once you do and remove the allergen, he should recover relatively quickly. 

Food Allergies

When a cat has food allergies, you may notice him start to lose hair around his face and neck, and sometimes other areas as well. Your cat could also suffer from vomiting or diarrhea, and even weight loss.

Foods like dairy, fish, chicken, and beef can all cause allergies in cats – even if they’ve never shown signs of an allergy before. Food allergies can come on suddenly with no rhyme or reason. The only way to nail down a specific food allergy and eliminate the trigger is to put your cat on a special hypoallergenic diet for 8 to 10 weeks.

However, this can be difficult, so your vet may try to rule out any other possible culprits for the itching condition before recommending such a diet. 

Parasites

Flea Bites

Fleas are one of the most common culprits of an itchy kitty, and thankfully are one of the easiest to diagnose.

You can sometimes see the fleas on your cat just with a visual inspection. If you can’t find the tiny insects, sometimes you can see little black granules, called “flea dirt.”

Flea dirt occurs when the flea digests blood and deposits it into your cat’s fur. This dirt can usually be found around your cat’s neck or at the base of his tail and his lower back. It is easiest to look for fleas and flea dirt on your kitty’s stomach, as there is less hair there and they are easier to find. It is a good idea to wait until your cat is sleepy before poking around his belly!

If you don’t see any fleas at all, the most likely scenario is that your cat has eaten the flea. When this is the case, you won’t find any evidence of fleas at all, not even flea dirt.

Even if you can’t find anything in these areas, it doesn’t mean your cat isn’t suffering from fleas. If your cat keeps scratching those areas, you might still want to try a doctor recommended flea medication just to be safe.

It’s also a good idea to treat your home because fleas can be brought into contact with your cat in a variety of ways, even through you.

Skin Parasites

Other common culprits to your cat’s itching problem are skin parasites. Parasites can cause very severe itching. Cats that may have contact with other animals outside or go outside on a regular basis are more susceptible.

Unfortunately, skin parasites such as mites can be difficult to diagnose. If you do find that mites are the problem, your cat will most likely need a topical parasiticide. Sometimes they may also need to be dipped in a lime sulfur solution. If you want to try to prevent your cat from picking up skin parasites, it’s best to keep your cat indoors and away from strange animals.

Insect Bites

Sometimes your cat may itch because he has been bitten or stung by an insect. Wasps and bees can cause pain and swelling, whereas flies and mosquitoes can cause massive irritation and itching.

More often than not, you’ll notice bites along the ears or the bridge of nose because insects tend to gravitate towards hairless areas.

Ear Mites

Ear mites can cause inflammation, especially in younger cats. However, they aren’t just relegated to the ears. Ear mites can move around and even spread to your cat’s neck and head or tail and backside. Ear mites are highly contagious to other animals.1

Ringworm

Ringworm is a relatively common condition, and it can cause some pretty intense itching. Ringworm is a fungal infection, causing problems, not with just your cat’s skin, but his hair and nails too. With ringworm, you may notice lesions on your cat’s skin. They may look like little bald areas that are red in the center, with flaky skin. Typically, you’ll find these lesions around your cat’s head and ears, or near his tail.

Ringworm is quite contagious, so if you suspect it, make sure you lock your cat up in a kennel away from other pets and wash your hands thoroughly.

Skin Disorders

Dry Skin

Dry skin has numerous causes ranging from environmental irritants, a cheap diet, to changes in the season. However, if your cat’s itchiness also presents with flaking, there could be a more serious underlying problem, and you should have your vet look into it.

Sun Damage

Sun damage is just as easy to develop in cats as it is in humans – especially when it comes to the white or light colored breeds, and cats that have white or light colored ears and noses.

Ears are particularly sensitive, but noses and eyelids are affected as well. Outdoor cats have a bigger risk of sunburn and skin damage than indoor cats, but all can be affected.

Feline Acne

Feline acne, although not as common as some of the other skin conditions can still make your cat itchy. This is a condition where your cat can develop blackheads, usually on their chin, that then progresses and turns itchy and red. When this happens, they can develop into pimples, then to abscesses that can rupture and become itchy and crusty. You also must be careful because your cat could develop a bacterial infection as a secondary condition.

Bacterial Skin Infection

This is fairly uncommon, but sometimes it happens. It can also coincide with a yeast overgrowth that can contribute to the misery of your itchy feline. Every time your cat experiences severe trauma to the skin from excessive scratching, he can be prone to infection. These infections are typically secondary to some other underlying cause.

Systemic Disorders

Feline Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex

This is a disorder where your cat produces an excessive number of a particular type of white blood cells called eosinophils.2 Three different types of conditions can result from this overproduction of eosinophils.

  • Eosinophilic Plaque
  • Eosinophilic Granuloma
  • Indolent ulcer

With each of these conditions, you may notice either round or oval-shaped ulcerated sores, raised sores, masses, or lumpy sores. These wounds are typically found on the abdomen or thighs, or their face or inside their mouth. Indolent ulcers can cause abscessed lesions along the upper lip as well.

Pemphigus Foliaceus

This condition causes your cat to itch his feet. It’s an autoimmune skin disorder and can present as crusty, scaly looking skin, mild ulcerations, pustules, and you may notice overgrowth and cracking on their footpads.3 Itchy and painful indeed!

Cowpox Virus

This is another rare phenomenon. It typically manifests in cats that like to hunt small rats. Cowpox Virus develops when the rat bites the cat.4 The virus enters the skin through the bite, and after a few days, you may notice little-ulcerated nodules pop up. These can be itchy and painful!

Miscellaneous Disorders and Diseases

Boredom and Anxiety

Sometimes cats will engage in compulsive licking, scratching, and chewing behaviors when he is bored, anxious, or suffering from a mental disorder. This seems to be more prevalent with indoor kitties, possibly because they get less exercise and interaction with the outside world.

Environmental changes, such as moving into a new home, or welcoming a new family member (whether four-legged or two) into the home can also be a cause for compulsive behaviors in your feline. It’s important for cats to feel loved and safe and comfy, and to receive plenty of exercise and stimulation each day to keep them from being bored and anxious.

Pain

Sometimes cats will lick, chew, and bite because they are feeling pain in a particular area. If you notice your cat seems to be doing this in the same spot over and over, it could be pain related.

Cancer

Unfortunately, with long-term and excessive skin damage, you increase your cat’s risk of developing skin cancer. Also, sometimes your cat may itch excessively due to a tumor that is developing that may be related to another type of cancer. It’s important to examine every bump or lump that you find, and confirm it’s nothing serious.

Treatments for an Itchy Cat

Depending on the condition and what is causing the itching, your vet may offer several treatment options. If your cat is suffering from fleas, your vet may prescribe an oral flea medication.

If it is a food allergen that is suspect, your vet may recommend a special diet to try to rule out the offending food.

Sometimes topicals can be used (such as creams), but if your cat is licking all the time, they can lick the medicine right off and render it useless.

Things like fatty acid supplements, antihistamines, sprays, and baths can sometimes be helpful as well but aren’t a guarantee. More often than not you may still need to resort to antibiotics and steroids, or other recommended treatments.

If you choose to use steroids like corticosteroids, the only drawback is that they can have side effects. Thankfully, cats tend to respond much better to steroids than humans do, but even still, they can be dangerous and lose their effectiveness over time if not administered and monitored properly.

References

1 https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/ear-mites-otodectes-in-cats-and-dogs

2 https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feline-eosinophilic-granuloma-complex-in-cats

3 http://www.skinvetclinic.com/pemphigusfoliaceus.html

4 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1098612X13489212?journalCode=jfma

What Causes Hair Loss in Cats?

You know you have a healthy cat when they have a shiny, soft, thick coat. However, when you start to notice that your cat seems to be losing a substantial amount of fur, this can be worrisome, especially if their hair loss is coupled with excessive scratching.

While it is normal for your cat to shed some of his fur (like in the summer when he begins to shed his winter coat), if he is losing a lot of hair or losing his hair in clumps, it may be cause for alarm. If you also notice other feline skin issues like sores and inflammation, then something is definitely off, and you know there must be a more serious reason for your cat’s hair loss.

So, what causes hair loss in cats? There are several potential causes, but here is a short list of the most common.

Allergies

Skin allergies, or allergic dermatitis, in cats, are the biggest cause when it comes to hair loss. On top of hair loss in cats, you may also notice hotspots and patchy skin that looks irritated or inflamed.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to narrow down the source of the allergen. Allergens can be environmental or food-based, and sometimes it takes a process of elimination to figure out which your cat suffers from. The most common feline food allergies are to the protein or carbohydrate content of their food.1 If a food allergy is suspected, an elimination diet should be started to find the culprit. Once you do pinpoint the allergen and remove it, your cat’s woes should clear right up, and his hair should grow back in as normal.

Psychogenic Alopecia

This is a fancy name for compulsive grooming. Compulsive grooming is a mental disorder where your cat will groom himself excessively – biting, chewing, and licking so much that he pulls out his hair and even create sores, irritation, and infection.2

Notoedric Mange

This is the result of a parasite, and you may notice hair loss on your cat’s face and upper body, especially around the neck, eyelids, and ears.3 This parasite is the second most common pest to plague cats.

Eosinophilic Granuloma

Vets do not currently know the exact cause of this condition, but your cat will develop lesions and lose the hair on the backs of his legs.4 It is thought that this condition is related to allergies somehow, but no one knows for sure.

Demodectic Mange

Demodectic Mange is a common cause of itching and hair loss in cats, caused by mites burrowing under the skin.5 These bugs can cause quite a bit of itching but are so tiny; they are invisible to the naked eye.

Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungus and will manifest on your cat as hair loss in little circular patterns. Because this fungus infects the shaft of the hair, sometimes it’s necessary to shave your cat after treatment to make sure the fungus is completely removed.

Fleas

A very common condition found in cats is something called flea-based alopecia, where the cat is very sensitive to flea saliva. The result is hair loss in a patchy pattern, coupled with… you guessed it… itching.6

Cushing’s Disease

This disease is rare in felines, but when your cat has it, he will lose hair on both sides of his body.7 Your cat also may present with other symptoms such as lethargy and increased thirst and appetite. You may also find that your kitty doesn’t enjoy a good petting the way he used to because his skin is too sensitive.

Thyroid Disease

Just like people, cats experience thyroid issues too, such as hypothyroidism. Unfortunately, hypothyroidism can also be a culprit for hair loss in cats. With hypothyroidism, hair can become very brittle and dull and fall out when you pet or brush your cat.

Feline Endocrine Alopecia

This is a condition where your cat loses hair on his inner legs, abdomen, and genital area. It is thought to be related to hormone levels. However, whatever it is related to, the condition is rare.

As you can see, though we can’t always know what causes hair loss in cats, there are a variety of possible conditions to look at.

Some of them can be more severe than others, so if you do notice that your cat appears to be grooming himself more than usual, or that his hair seems to be disappearing in clumps or patches or odd places, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.

Take your cat in to see a vet and let them help you figure out the source of the problem and get his skin and coat looking better in no time!

References:

1 http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/foodallergies.cfm

2 https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/cat-behavior-problems-compulsive-disorders-in-cats

http://www.aavp.org/wiki/arthropods/arachnids/astigmata/notoedres-cati/

4  https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feline-eosinophilic-granuloma-complex-in-cats

5 https://www.banfield.com/pet-healthcare/additional-resources/article-library/conditions-illnesses/demodectic-mange-overview

6 http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/vmth/small_animal/dermatology/factsheets.cfm

7 http://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/endocrine/c_ct_Hyperadrenocorticism?page=show