Allergies in cats are a common nuisance that can range from mild to severe. In addition to airborne allergies such as pollen, mold, and grasses, cats can be sensitive to food proteins and flea bites. Here’s an informative guide to feline allergy basics from Just Cats Clinic

What are allergies in cats?

Allergic reactions are an abnormal immune system response (i.e., overreaction) to an environmental substance—encountered through inhalation, direct contact, or ingestion. When the immune system is sensitive to proteins in a particular substance (i.e., allergen), inflammation is triggered in the body, and is expressed visually through physical discomfort, including itchiness, respiratory irritation, and gastrointestinal distress.

Cats can suffer from four allergy types, including:

  • Environmental allergies — Inhaled allergies (i.e., atopy) include tree pollens, grasses, weeds, mold, and dust, and may be seasonal or year-round.
  • Food allergies — Cats can react to specific proteins in their food, especially beef, milk products, and fish. Cats can also suffer from food sensitivity, which is a negative response to the food without immune system involvement.
  • Flea allergies — Some cats are hypersensitive to a specific protein in flea saliva, which is injected under their skin during a bite. Cats with flea allergies experience severe discomfort and may aggressively over-groom, and suffer hair loss, skin infections, and widespread inflammation.
  • Contact allergies — Although contact allergies are the least common, exposure to certain cat litters, fabrics, surfaces, or topical flea preventives or collars can trigger an immune reaction.

What are common allergy signs in cats?

Cats can experience allergies at any age. Depending on the specific allergen, they may express various signs, including:

  • Frequent scratching, licking, biting, or self-trauma
  • Red or irritated skin
  • Hair loss
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Upper respiratory signs (i.e., watery eyes, sneezing, or coughing) may be more severe in asthmatic cats.

How are allergies in cats diagnosed?

Diagnosing your cat’s allergies begins with a visit to Just Cats Clinic. We’ll ask you to describe your cat’s behavior and any changes in their routine, and then we’ll examine your cat to identify allergic reaction signs, external parasites, and concurrent medical conditions. Depending on our findings, our veterinarian may recommend blood work, an elimination diet to address food allergies, or additional diagnostic testing, such as intradermal (i.e., skin) testing or serology (i.e., using a blood sample to look for allergen antibodies).

Can allergies in cats be treated or managed?

While allergies cannot be cured, cats with allergies can live long and comfortable lives when their symptoms are well-managed with a veterinary-supervised treatment plan. Options vary based on your cat’s diagnosis, but may include:

  • Feeding trial — For cats with suspected food intolerance (i.e., allergy or sensitivity), changing their food to a novel protein or hypoallergenic diet may alleviate allergy signs. To ensure success, the new food must be fed exclusively—no treats or snacks—for 8 to 12 weeks to determine an outcome. After we confirm a food allergy, we may advise you to slowly reintroduce one ingredient at a time. If the food intolerance signs reappear, the allergen can be identified.
  • Medication — Medications such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressives, and antihistamines are commonly used to reduce and control inflammation and itching. While steroids are not a long-term resolution, they provide fast-acting relief for severely affected cats.
  • Immunotherapy — For severe environmental allergies, we may advise custom-designed allergy injections (i.e., allergy shots). Small inoculations of your pet’s specific allergens can gradually desensitize or retrain the immune system to not react to the allergen. 
  • Parasite control and prevention — Year-round flea prevention and environmental management can reduce your cat’s risk for a hypersensitivity reaction. 
  • Laser therapyTherapeutic laser is a non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive method for reducing inflammation and can alleviate many skin issues, including allergic irritation. Cats love our laser for its gentle, soothing warmth, and seem to appreciate their treatment sessions. 
  • Environmental management — We can’t eliminate pollen, dust, and mold, but your cat can be made more comfortable with medicated baths, sprays, wipes, or limited outdoor exposure. Additional housekeeping, such as increased vacuuming, dusting, and air-duct cleaning, may also help reduce allergen counts, but ensure you use pet-safe cleaning products to prevent inhalant or contact allergies.

Coping with chronic allergies in cats

Chronic discomfort and irritation cause stress and anxiety in cats, and negatively impact their quality of life. Addressing your cat’s physical signs as soon as possible can help prevent prolonged suffering or additional complications (e.g., skin infections, anemia, respiratory distress) that may require further treatment or hospitalization. If your cat is experiencing allergy-related signs, don’t delay—contact Just Cats Clinic, and schedule an appointment for their much-needed relief.