Definition of Feline Allergies
Allergies, also called hypersensitivity reactions, occur when a cat’s immune system overreacts to something it comes into contact with in the environment. Allergies can affect the skin, stomach, intestinal lining and many other areas. Feline allergies may be mild or may cause extreme discomfort, agitation, depression and a predisposition to secondary bacterial infections. They can be difficult to diagnose, and even more difficult to treat. Unlike dogs and people, cats with allergies usually don’t get watery eyes and have bouts of sneezing. Instead, allergies tend to affect their skin.
Causes of Feline Allergies
Allergies are caused by something in the environment, called an “allergen,” that a cat’s immune system targets as being foreign. Common feline allergens are flea saliva, insect bites, parasites, pollen, dust mites, mold, grasses and certain ingredients in food. The best way to prevent allergies in cats is to keep them from coming into contact with the particular allergens that are causing them to have an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of Feline Allergies
The most common symptoms of feline allergies are skin irritation, itchiness, restlessness, agitation, depression, relentless grooming, ingested hair balls, hot spots, skin rashes, ear infections, coughing, vomiting, wheezing and diarrhea. The itchiness caused by allergies may be all over the cat’s body, or it may be localized around the ears, neck and groin. Hair loss is also common. Many cats with allergies develop crusty scabs and sores on their skin. Secondary bacterial and yeast skin infections often develop around these areas and cause additional inflammation, irritation and discomfort. Many of these symptoms are seasonal. Owners may notice that their cat’s allergies are worse during the Spring and Summer months. If food allergies are the culprit, the signs may be a bit different. Instead of skin problems, cats with food allergies often develop gastrointestinal symptoms that include vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss.
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Diagnosing Allergies in Cats
Feline allergies are diagnosed by assessing the cat’s symptoms and medical history, together with evaluating the results of blood tests and response to treatment. A skin patch test can be performed to identify the specific allergens that are causing the cat’s symptoms. Cats with allergies have a very good prognosis. Once the offending allergens are identified and removed from the cat’s environment, the symptoms and irritations of allergies should decline dramatically.
Treating Feline Allergies
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to treat allergies in cats. The best way is to remove the offending allergens from the cat’s immediate environment. Prescription medications that suppress the immune system, and special shampoos, are also available to help with allergies. Most cats with allergies can be well-managed and lead a full, comfortable life.