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
- Plastics and rubber
- 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!