Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Allergies in Cats

Allergies in cats aren’t fun – either for you or for the cat. You hear about humans being allergic to cats, but you don’t hear as much about cats suffering from allergic reactions. At least, when I was a kid, it never occurred to any of us that cats might also suffer from allergies.

In fact, allergies in cats are one of the most common problems. Cats, being the complicated creatures they are, suffer from a wide range of allergies, which can be classified into the following four types:

Inhalant allergies (also known as atopic allergies). These are things that cats can inhale, airborne particles like pollen, cigarette smoke, perfumes, household sprays, air freshener, molds, mildew, dust mites. (Yes, cats are very much like humans in this respect!) Cats can even be allergic to kitty litter, so pay attention to the litter you get for your cat.

Contact allergies. An allergy can manifest when cats have a prolonged contact with a substance that it can’t tolerate, such as grass, wool, and plastic.

Flea allergies. Some people are allergic to fleas – but some cats can be just as allergic to them. (Fleas, not people.) When the flea saliva is deposited, an allergic cat has a much more intense, itch-producing reaction than non-allergic cats. You’ll know if your cat is allergic to fleas if he bites, bites, bites, bites, and bites himself relentlessly (or if he writes you a scathing letter for letting the fleas run amuck). He might also start chewing himself so badly that he removes large patches of hair, often around his eyes, ears, and legs. He could go bald, and that would be so very sad.

Food allergies. Yes, allergies in cats include allergies to foods. (This particular type of allergy in cats surprised me. The way my cat Saki ate anything and everything within reach, I never realized that cats could ever have food allergies. Guess I was just lucky!) Cats can be reactive to grains, meats, and dairy products. The tricky part is that food allergies don’t usually manifest overnight. It can take weeks, perhaps years, of exposure to rear its scabby face.

As you might expect, cats can also react to medications, such as penicillin. Talk to your vet about the possibility of allergies to medications.

Flea allergies are supposedly the most common type of allergies in cats. Next are food allergies, followed closely by inhalant allergies. Contact allergies are the least common.

Just as with humans, allergies in cats are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to certain substances. The most common allergic response is itching of the skin, which can be either localized (in one area), or generalized (all over the poor kitty).

Allergies in cats can manifest as:

Skin conditions – including dermatitis, skin eruptions and changes in pigmentation

Digestive issues – vomiting and diarrhea (food allergies can cause digestive problems, but they can also show up as skin problems)

Respiratory problems – coughing, sneezing, and/or wheezing

If your cat’s itching and biting a lot, don’t automatically assume that she’s suffering from allergies. While allergies are the most likely culprit, there are many other causes for frantic scratching. Like lice, fungus, mange, liver disease – and plain old anxiety. (Yup, this means that you shouldn’t give your cat pop quizzes.)

Whatever’s the reason for your cat’s frenetic itching, you should definitely get it treated as soon as possible because when open sores and scabs form on the skin, they can lead to secondary bacterial infection – and lots more problems.

What’s the cure for allergies in cats? Sadly, none. You can, however, get the allergies under control by avoiding the allergens (obviously, you have to identify them first, a task best left to the vet, unless you have aspirations to become Sherlock Holmes), treating the symptoms, or desensitizing the cat.

Steroids can be used to relieve inflammation and itching in the short-term. Don’t use it long term though, because the drug suppresses the immune system – not a good idea!

Antihistamines can also be used (can be used in conjunction with steroids), but again, popping meds isn’t a long-term solution, either for your or your cat. (Unless, of course, your doc or the vet tells you to do so, and don’t get the two mixed up.)

Your cat can be desensitized to allergens through immunotherapy. The cat is injected with small amounts of the substance(s) that the cat is allergic to. The vet will give you the extracts and instructions on how to give injections at home. You generally give the injections every 7 to 21 days, depending on the cat’s condition.

Most cats respond, but some don’t. The other down side is that therapy can e expensive, and since allergies can’t be cured, you’ll most likely have to continue the injections for life.

I’ll explore the possibility of other, alternative treatments in a future posting.

For now, the good news is that there are no reports of cats being allergic to humans. Although, who’s to say, maybe some kitties avoid us cause we trigger severe allergic responses in them!

Scratch, scratch. Bite, bite. Ouch!

2 comments:

Jade Graham said...

You’ll know if your cat is allergic to fleas if he bites, bites, bites, bites, and bites himself relentlessly (or if he writes you a scathing letter for letting the fleas run amuck). He might also start chewing himself so badly that he removes large patches of hair, often around his eyes, carbon filter

Cheryl Chow said...

That's a good point, Jade! Sounds like Katherine's cat doesn't do that. But certainly, if the kitty is biting and biting relentlessly, then there's good chance of allergy to fleas!