From Pet Health Learning Center
Cat Allergies (Feline Allergies)
Signs and Symptoms
Just as humans can be tormented by the troubling symptoms of allergies, so can cats. An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to the presence of a substance or material that is not harmful. This type of overreaction is common amongst cats, especially young and middle-aged felines. Cat allergies can be caused by a wide variety of different substances and are generally divided into four categories -- food allergies, flea allergies, contact allergies, and inhalant allergies. These different types of allergies can all cause a number of troubling and uncomfortable symptoms, some of which are shared between categories and others that are more unique to a specific type of allergy. Yet, all symptoms of feline allergies tend to manifest themselves in three ways -- through skin reactions, the respiratory system, or the digestive system.
Cats are generally not born with food allergies. Rather, they tend to develop such sensitivities to foods that they have eaten for quite some time. The most common sign of a food allergy in a cat is non-seasonal itching, which may be especially intense around the animal's head and neck. The excessive scratching, chewing, and biting caused by this itching can sometimes lead to hair loss. Ear infections are also common amongst cats suffering from food allergies. Other typical symptoms involve signs of digestive distress, such as diarrhea and gas.
Flea allergies are the most common type of allergies in cats. A cat without this type of allergy typically only experiences minor itching and irritation as a result of fleas and flea bites. On the other hand, a cat that is allergic to these insects will develop a severe reaction, even from just one bite. Signs that your cat is suffering from a flea allergy include extreme scratching and biting, even to the point of causing hair loss. Sometimes this intense scratching can cause sores or scabs, which can then potentially lead to a skin infection. In the case of flea allergies, this itching most typically occurs above the cat's tail. Sometimes, little black flecks referred to as "flea dirt" may be visible on the cat's skin. However, this is not always the case as cats with this type of allergy often do not have a large number of fleas.
Contact allergies are the least common type of allergy to affect cats. This type of allergy involves a local reaction to material such as a flea collar or wool bedding. Generally, a cat suffering from a contact allergy will exhibit localized itching where it came in contact with the triggering substance. In contrast to contact allergies, inhalant allergies are very common amongst felines. This type of allergy is also known as atopy and involves an overreaction to an environmental, airborne substance such as pollen, mildew, dust mites, or animal dander. As with other types of feline allergies, the most common symptom displayed by cats with this problem is itching. In many cases, this irritation will be most severe around the face, chest, belly, and feet. Sometimes this itching will be seasonal, but if the triggering agent is around continuously or in large numbers, the itching may be constant. Other signs of inhalant allergies include forms of respiratory distress, such as wheezing and sneezing.
Based upon these clinical signs, it can often be difficult to distinguish the type of allergy that is affecting your cat. However, if your pet is experiencing severe itching, with or without other symptoms, there is a good chance that he or she is suffering from some form of feline allergies. In such circumstances, it's always a good idea to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible in order to protect and promote your pet's health and comfort.
A diagnosis of cat allergies is often made with the aid of laboratory tests. Serum allergy tests involve looking at the part of the blood that is composed of white blood cells and fluid, but not red blood cells. This part of the blood is called the serum. High levels of immunoglobulin E in a cat's serum can indicate that the feline patient is suffering from allergies or a parasitic infection that triggers a similar response. Other tests, such as a radioallergosorbent serum test (RAST) or intradermal skin test, are used in order to identify specific antigens that cause a reaction in your pet. In the case of an intradermal skin test, small amounts of different potential antigens are injected under the feline patient's skin. If the injection site becomes red and swollen, this suggests that the injected antigen could be one of the causes of the cat's allergies. However, pinpointing the exact triggers of your cat's allergies can be difficult, and often an animal will react to several different substances rather than just one.
A food elimination trial is another method that may be used in an attempt to reach a diagnosis. During such a trial, a cat is only allowed to eat a special diet. After several weeks, one type of food will be introduced to the special diet. If no symptoms occur in response to the addition of this food, you will know that your cat is not allergic to that type of food. More foods are added one at a time, and symptoms are checked after each addition. While this is one of the best methods for diagnosing cat allergies, especially food allergies, a food elimination trial can take eight to twelve weeks and the feline patient cannot receive any treats or extras during that time. As a result, this method is very time-consuming and can sometimes be challenging for both pets and owners. However, if food allergies are the cause of your cat's distress, identifying the causative agent can greatly increase your pet's comfort and quality of life.
Allergies involve the overreaction of the immune system in response to a substance that is normally not harmful. This substance or material that triggers the allergic response is referred to as an antigen. When an encounter occurs between an antigen and the body's white blood cells, the immune system triggers the release of histamine. Histamine causes the dilation of capillaries, so blood flow to the affected area is increased, causing it to become warm, puffy, and itchy. While allergies are very uncomfortable for cats, they can also be potentially dangerous as they can lead to ear and skin infections as well as Cat Asthma.
The causes and triggers of cat allergies are numerous and varied. The most common cause of allergy symptoms in cats, however, is fleas. Other substances that frequently cause an allergic response from felines include beef, eggs, yeast, dairy, chicken, pork and rice as well as pollens, mold and mosquitos. Food allergies can show up when a cat experiences a change in diet, or they can develop in response to food that a cat has been eating for an extended period of time. In many cases, a cat's immune system will overreact to several different antigens, rather than just one. This is especially true when the causes are environmental. It is because there are so many potential triggers of cat allergies that it can often be very difficult to pinpoint the specific cause or causes for an individual feline patient.
The treatment required for a cat's allergies will depend upon the type of allergy and the causative agents responsible for the hypersensitivity reactions. For example, contact allergies generally only require preventing exposure to the antigen. Similarly, in the case of food allergies, removing the triggering food from the cat's diet will often be enough to solve the problem. However, with respect to environmental antigens, treatment may be more complex.
Since there is no actual cure for allergies, reducing exposure and symptoms are the main goals of treatment. In the case of environmental antigens, it can be difficult to reduce exposure sufficiently to prevent the occurrence of troubling symptoms. For instance, if the triggering antigen is airborne pollen, it's practically impossible to completely eliminate exposure. However, certain actions such as using an air filter, keeping windows closed, and rinsing your pet's feet when it comes in from outside can help to reduce the impact of environmental antigens.
There are also several forms of medical treatment available whose primary aim is to reduce allergy symptoms. In some cases, allergy shots may be used. This often involves injecting the feline patient with a serum specially developed according to the substances that the individual cat is allergic to. However, such shots are often an expensive form of treatment and are not effective for all felines. Furthermore, while antihistamines provide an effective form of allergy treatment for humans, they tend to be ineffective for most felines.
There are a number of natural treatment options for cat allergies as well. Some animals are helped by a supplement of omega 3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish oil and reduce the immune system's susceptibility to overreact to the presence of antigens. In addition, yucca is a natural substance that acts as an anti-inflammatory and can be administered daily to reduce and prevent allergy symptoms. Natural tonics can also provide significant relief for cats suffering from allergies. Such products consist of natural ingredients with a variety of beneficial properties. For example, myrrh and milk vetch reduce inflammation, soothe irritation, and promote healing. As a result, there are several different natural substances that can be very effective with regards to treating cat allergies and reducing the irritating and uncomfortable symptoms that such hypersensitivity reactions can cause.