General Information about Allergies

Allergies cause reactions and unpleasant side effects caused by an animal’s immune system. This is what helps a cat build up resistance to viruses. The immune system prevents unwanted bacteria and disease from entering a cat’s system. In a cat with allergies, the allergen triggers a reaction. Reactions can include itching, sneezing, coughing, swelling, watery eyes, vomiting, and sometimes diarrhea. A cat’s body can react to allergens as either hypersensitivity or an allergic reaction.

There are two kinds of hypersensitivity reactions.

The immediate-type happens shortly after exposure and causes hives and itching. Hives can cause a cat’s head to swell, especially around the mouth and eye areas. A delayed reaction may cause only itching that happens hours or days after. An example of both reactions is flea allergy dermatitis. With this condition, a cat may continue to itch even after flea treatment. Other allergens can enter through the lungs, digestive tract, or even through the skin. The majority of human allergens enter through the lungs. Cats mainly experience skin or gastrointestinal tract entry.

Food Allergies

Cats can develop allergies to food or even ingredients in their foods. Fish, cheese, and milk are the most common items to cause allergies. Symptoms of an allergy can include itchy skin, sneezing, swollen eyelids, and a runny nose. Your first instinct is to take your cat to the vet. Allergies are often misdiagnosed as Rhinotracheitis, Calici, or even upper respiratory distress. If left untreated allergies can cause hair loss or sores from constant scratching. Half of the cats suffering from allergies will also have profuse diarrhea. Veterinarians diagnose allergies by exposing the cat to allergens and measure the reaction. Treatment involves removing the allergen from the environment.

 

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

This skin disease, also called military dermatitis caused by an allergy to fleas. Veterinarians believed that food allergies, hormone disorders, or nutritional deficiencies. The symptoms of this allergy are crusts and bumps shaped like a small seed on the neck and back of the cat. Fleas found most often in these areas of the body. When cats lick and scratch these areas, patches of skin form that become infected. Ulcers from licking may also occur. Military dermatitis is the most common seasonal allergy in cats. The majority of symptoms happen in the middle of summer, but if a cat is symptomatic this can occur year-round. Once the fleas and rash are visible on a cat diagnosis is simple. To check your cat for fleas, place the cat on a white sheet of paper and rough up its fur. If there are black and sometimes white specks present, those are flea eggs and feces.

Photo of cat with skin allergies

Treatment

Kill the fleas using one of the many safe topical or prescription ingestible flea pills. Treat your house with a hormonal treatment that sterilizes both fleas and eggs. Vacuum daily to remove all traces of both fleas and their eggs. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medicines to stop excessive scratching.

Irritant Contact and Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Two different conditions are Irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. They produce very similar reactions, and both originate after contact with a chemical. Any cat can come into contact with an irritating chemical and have a skin reaction. In some cases, only cats that are allergic will show an irritating skin response. Cats with allergies to certain chemicals will develop after exposure at least twice. Areas, where the hair is thin or absent, are the likely areas to break out. These areas are the feet, chin, nose, abdomen, and groin. Both types of contact dermatitis produce red, itchy bumps along with skin inflammation. Skin injury is likely due to excessive scratching. Allergic contact dermatitis may spread more.

Chemicals producing irritant dermatitis are:

  • Acids
  • Alkalis
  • Detergents
  • Solvents
  • Soaps
  • Petroleum by-products

Common substances that produce allergic dermatitis are:

  • Flea collars and powders
  • Shampoos
  • Poison Ivy/Poison Oak
  • Plastic/Rubber dishes
  • Dyes found in carpets
  • Neomycin in some topical medications
  • Some kitty litters

Treatment

Try to consider the area of exposure and look for anything your cat may contact that touches that area.  Then keep your cat away from it.  If it is plastic bowls switch to stainless steel.  If it is litter try different brands.  Remove flea collars at first sign of skin irritation.  Better yet do not use a flea collar at all and try a safe topical your veterinarian recommends. Cortisone is of some value because it stops itching and biting.  Discuss its use with your veterinarian. LSL

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