Updated: Aug 7, 2019
By: Caroline Montgomery, DVM
At least half the staff here at Metro Cat Clinic is suffering with allergies in some way or another. Lots of sneezing, runny eyes, nasal congestion, and sinusitis/infection.
All this pollen also affects our cats, too. But they show it in different ways.
In cats we rarely relate eye issues and sneezing to the allergy season. Those are usually due to viruses.
Is your cat shaking his/her head? Holding an ear/pinna flat? Suffering with chin acne? Over-grooming the abdomen/belly? Loosing hair on back or near the tail? Scooting or red rectum? Chewing or licking the feet?
These are all signs of allergies in cats. Some causes are apparent (those dastardly fleas- if only the lower back or tail area are affected, it is fleas!), most are not. Other causes are the pollen in the air. Unless you have a special filter and air tight house, pollen even gets into our homes. Other things in the house that can cause allergic symptoms are house dust/mites and mold. So while rain can help decrease the pollen, it can cause the mold to bloom. And there are a few cats that actually have food allergies. While not as common as environmental allergies, cats can become allergic to food they have eaten their whole lives.
An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system OVER responds to a foreign element, (as opposed to an infection, when the cat’s immune system cannot control an invasion of an organism). With an infection, medications can be given to help eradicate the foreign organism and produce a cure. Rarely does this occur with allergies. To “cure” an allergy, we must determine what is causing the problem and avoid it. So, fleas can be controlled and food can be avoided. For environmental allergens (pollen, dust, mites, mold)we can send off a blood test or refer your cat to a veterinarian dermatologist to perform dermal testing to determine what your cat over-responds to. Then Hyposensitization shots can be given on a long term basis.
To find out what or if any foods are to blame, a “food trial” must be implemented. To do this, a type of protein your cat has never had is fed exclusively for 6 weeks and then a single source protein is added in on a weekly basis (your cat’s immune system is “challenged”) to see which food causes the symptoms to recur. As you can tell, finding a food allergy takes time. There is not a good, quick test. But it is very rewarding when you find out what needs to be avoided.
If the skin becomes very inflamed, then a secondary bacterial infection can occur, which will need antibiotics. But this does not deal with the underlying original problem: allergies.
If the symptoms of allergies occurs only seasonally, then we would manage with antihistamines or steroids. If the symptoms are year round, that is when the testing and the allergen shots are needed.
Steroids are a great medication when used under supervision. Long term steroids can cause harm to the whole body if used inappropriately.
If you suspect allergies, let’s look at your cat and see if we can find an easy solution. Or, if needed, we can start to find out what the cause is and how to best help find relief.