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Cats and Allergies

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A cat lies on a windowsill, licking their front leg

When you first bring your new feline friend into your home, many things are bound to be on your mind: What should I name them? Do they like their new cat tower? I wonder if I bought enough litter. When should I schedule their first veterinary appointment? Out of all the items you’re pondering, allergies may very likely not be one of them.

Can Cats Have Allergies?

Like their human pals or dog siblings, cats can have allergies too. These allergic reactions can come from items they touch, eat, or breathe in. Your cat’s immune system may view the allergen as a dangerous, foreign item, so when they come into contact with one another, your cat’s immune system will begin working overtime to process and rid the body of the substance. These sensitivities are ultimately what causes allergic reactions to appear.

Some common cat allergy signs and symptoms include:

Unfortunately, cats can’t speak their mind and say that they’re feeling itchy or that they’re having a reaction. Instead, it’s up to you to notice when your cat is acting differently.

Common Cat Allergies and How To Treat Them

Symptoms from cat allergies can vary based on the underlying allergen, but many have overlapping symptoms. That said, one of the best ways to begin helping treat your cat is to pinpoint what is causing the reaction and eliminate it from their daily life as much as possible.

Cats and Food Allergies

Relatively speaking, food allergies in cats are rare, though not impossible. Symptoms typically present themselves through skin irritation, causing your cat to lick, scratch, or bite themselves excessively. Their skin can become red and dry, developing hives or sores. Hair loss due to an allergic reaction can also occur.

Food allergies are not linked to any specific age, size, or breed, and they can occur even with foods your cat has been eating for years. The reaction is caused by your cat’s immune system having an abnormal (overactive) response to proteins in food. Common foods that cause reactions include chicken, beef, and fish, while less frequent allergens include wheat, dairy, eggs, and corn.

If your cat is suspected of having a food allergy, then you will need to take them to their veterinarian. Once there, you’ll need to review your cat’s medical history and current symptoms. While the goal of treatment will be to eliminate that food from their diet entirely, the first step is figuring out which food item is the issue.

Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe a hypoallergenic diet for 8-12 weeks, during which time your cat cannot have any other type of food or treat. With the hope that all symptoms disappear, it will be recommended that you slowly reintroduce one item at a time (roughly one every two weeks), waiting to see if any symptoms reappear. Assuming they don’t, you can continue adding one thing at a time back into their diet. By taking your time with this process, once your feline friend begins to show symptoms again, it should prove easy to pinpoint the food that caused the reaction.

A long-haired cat lying on carpet gets brushed

Cats and Seasonal Allergies

Just as the term is named, seasonal allergies only occur during specific seasons, compared to some environmental allergies, which can cause reactions all year. With the change of seasons, many new types of plants bloom, and different pollens are falling, some of which could cause allergic reactions in your cat. Although seasonal allergies can technically occur during any season (which may be influenced based on where you live), most allergies are set off during spring and summer and will be reoccurring every year during that time.

Dust, fleas, molds, dander, and various pollens from grasses, trees, and weeds can cause seasonal allergies. These allergens can bother a cat through direct contact, inhalation, and consumption. Your cat’s skin can be more susceptible to absorbing allergens, which can overwhelm their immune system. This overreaction consequently causes symptoms, often in the form of itchy skin. This can, in turn, lead to excessive scratching, overgrooming, hair loss, inflammation, and lesions.

If you notice your cat experiencing these symptoms, you should take them to their veterinarian as soon as possible. However, since excessive itching and skin irritation can be caused by any number of other underlying health issues, besides allergies, your veterinarian will need to run multiple tests in order to receive a proper diagnosis. Needing various tests may sound excessive, but for this type of allergy, there’s no single test available that can determinedly diagnose the allergy. Instead, a process of elimination is used. Your veterinarian will work through testing your cat for various other issues. If each result comes back negative, it can be concluded that an allergy is the underlying problem.

Cats and Flea Allergies

Fleas are pesky little parasites that no pet parent ever wants to deal with—that’s why monthly preventives are so important. However, if a flea were to bite your cat, in most instances, it would cause only minor itching and minimal skin irritation. When a cat has a flea allergy, the reactions can become severe. Just a single bite from one flea could cause a major reaction over your cat’s entire body, not just where they were bit.

Allergic reactions to fleas come as a response to proteins or antigens in a flea’s saliva. When a flea bites your feline friend, some of their saliva is left behind, thus how a reaction can begin. This allergy to fleas is also known as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). This condition can result in severe itching, causing excessive scratching, licking, or chewing of the affected area. Hair loss, sores, and infections can all quickly follow.

Monthly flea preventive medicine is one of the best sources of treatment and prevention for FAD. Talk with your veterinarian about which medication is best for your cat and whether you should continue treatment throughout the year.

How To Know if You’re Allergic to Cats

Have you ever noticed that after interacting with a cat, your nose starts running, your eyes begin watering, and you’re sneezing and wheezing? If so, there’s a good chance you have a cat allergy.

Allergens from cats are produced by the proteins in their saliva, skin, and fur. While a cat’s dander can easily remain on clothes, furniture, and blankets, it can also be airborne. This is why some people may instantly feel an allergic reaction when they step foot in someone’s house with a cat, even if they don’t have direct contact with them. Pet-related allergies can vary from mild to severe.

If you suspect that you have a cat allergy, it may be in your best interest to visit an allergist and get tested. By receiving official results, you will know if cats are the underlying source of your symptoms, and if they are, you can take steps to manage them. In discovering that you have a cat allergy, one of the easiest ways to avoid allergy flair-ups is not to adopt a cat and try to spend limited time in households with a cat.

How To Live With a Cat and Allergies

However, if you’re allergic to your feline friend, you can still take some steps to help lower the allergens in your home. Some of these could include:

  • Avoiding touching your face or eyes after petting your cat

  • Always wash your hands after interacting with your cat

  • Keeping your pal out of your bedroom to help lower the allergens

  • Brushing your cat multiple times a week and bathing them regularly

  • Sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting throughout the week to help reduce allergens

  • Using an air cleaner in your bedroom or family room where you and your cat may spend the most time

You can also talk with your healthcare provider about how you may better manage your symptoms. Treatments vary based on allergy reactions, but common remedies include nasal spray, eye drops, antihistamines, and inhalers. Allergy shots, a form of immunotherapy, can also help individuals build a tolerance to their allergen.

Can Cats Be Hypoallergenic?

Whether felines have long, luscious coats, short and coarse hair, or they are hairless, no cat breed is genuinely hypoallergenic since allergens can be produced in multiple ways. Unfortunately for some people, this means that if you have a severe enough cat allergy, there may not be any breed that won’t cause you to sneeze or your eyes to itch.

That said, having a cat allergy doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be allergic to dogs, too—though you may want to have an allergy test done before considering adoption.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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