All you need to know about allergies in cats, symptoms, causes, treatments, home remedies, preventive measures, supplements and costs.
Allergies are quite common to the domestic animals. Pet dogs, cats, birds all suffer from various allergies and health conditions. In fact one of the most common reasons for visit to a Vet is the allergy. In this article, let us explore in depth the types of allergies, their causes, symptoms and treatments.
What is an allergy ?
The basic definition of allergy is a condition of over-reactivity or increased sensitivity of the immune system to a foreign body called an allergen. Most of the time, this allergen is formed by a protein present in plants, insects, animals, food substances or other creatures.
Constant exposure to this allergen over a long period triggers our immune system to think it is a dangerous element, causing over reaction or hypersensitivity.
Understanding the allergy from a medical perspective, the immune response systems can be complex and involve multiple factors. Our tissues all over the body contain a type of cells called ‘Mast Cells’ . When the protein present in the allergen combines with antibodies present in our blood, they react with the mast cell. Thus the mast cells release chemicals called histamines that result in inflammation, swelling, rashes, itching and redness. These are the signs of an allergic reaction by our body.
An allergic reaction could be immediate (anaphylaxis) or delayed (24-28 hours after coming in contact with the allergen)
How many types of Allergies exist in Cats ?
There are hundreds of different types of allergies in cats, but for the discussion of this topic, I will try to keep it short. There are four most common types of allergies in cats. They include :
- Insects, ticks and Fleas
- Atopic Dermatitis or Environment induced Allergies ( Dust, pollen, mold, spores )
- Allergic Contact Dermatitis
- Bronchitis or Feline Asthma
Symptoms of Allergies in Cats
Some of the common symptoms of allergies in cats include :
- Compulsive or repetative licking
- Biting and pulling out fur
- Excessive scratching
- Biting/Chewing Paws or tail
- Waxy or greasy discharge from ears
- Red , swollen or itchy skin
- Vomiting, Diarrhea or Gastro intestinal issues
- Unable to ingest or snoring due to swelling in trachea/food pipe
- Inflamed or sensitive paws
Atopic Dermatitis or Environment induced Allergies
Atopic Dermatitis is the most common form of allergy in cats. In house dust, pollen from open windows or your backyard or fleas present in household materials like carpets, cat bed etc cause atopic dermatitis. Since these factors cannot be easily discovered or often ignored, we can see sudden bursts of allergic reactions in cats.
Less known environmental factors include allergy in cats due to smoking, perfumes, deodorants, wet wipes as well as cleaning products like detergents or floor cleaners.
Insects, Ticks and Fleas
While the problem of insects or fleas exist everywhere, most animals just show signs of occasional itching. Some types of fleas can however create allergies in cats and we can see excessive scratching, rubbing or biting the area due to the itch. Flea bite can trigger excessive itching in cat, not just where it was bitten. To prevent fleas and insects, regular washing or wiping of your cat is important as well as to keep the cat linen or litter box clean.
Affected areas :
- Abdomen and under the belly
- Head and neck
- Inner thighs
- Watery or red eyes
- Inflammation around nose and eyes
Third most common reason of allergy in cats is due to food. We can see this in 10-15 percent of cats. They can be allergic to lots of foods that we humans consider safe to eat. Usually, food allergies are seen in itchiness of skin or gastrointestinal disruptions like vomiting or diarrhea.
The most common food proteins that cause allergy are beef, chicken, ham, and fish. Proteins derived from vegetables like corn, pasta, bread etc., along with chemicals such as food preservatives, colors or anti-caking agents present in liquids cause issues. Food allergies can also lead to developing of secondary allergies like skin allergy etc.
If food allergies persist for long time, and the cat does not respond to first dose of medication, the most common form of treatment that you can try at home is elimination method. The downside is that this takes a few months to understand the allergy causing food.
What is Elimination or Hypoallergenic method ?
Elimination method, as the name suggests means eliminating a series of common food items one after the other to see the response of cat. It also includes trying out a diet which was not previously present in your cat’s diet. For example deer, game birds, rabbit, bison, goose, pheasant etc
Improtant tip : It takes a minimum of 7-8 weeks for your cat’s system to completely eliminate the existing food products from its body. So the special diet must be tried atleast for 10 -12 weeks.
What is Atopic Dermatitis or Environmental allergy ?
Atopic Dermatitis in cats is described as an allergy or hypersensitivity due to environmental factors such as pollen, grass, molds, spores, flowers etc. The age of cats suffering from atopic dermatitis is usually <5 years. Generally cats are allergic to ragweed, flower pollen and some types of grasses. Cat’s general reaction is severe itching.
Types of Atopic Dermatitis
- Military Dermatitis
- Symmetric Alopecia
- Eosinophilic granuloma
- Head and Neck pruritus
Secondary health issues arising from Atopic Dermatitis include :
- Insect Allergy
- Flea/Tick infestations (Cheyletiella, Notoedres, Otodectes etc)
- Hypersensitivity to Mosquitoes
- Food Allergy
- Auto Immune Disease
Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis in Cats :
The treatment includes multiple line of medications as below :
Primarily line of treatment includes Corticosteroids (like prednisolone) that are administered at first. These are the steroids are given orally or using injections. They stop the allergic reaction in cat’s nervous system, giving a quick relief for the cat and thus, further secondary line of medications.
Secondary lime of treatment include fatty acids or fish oils and antihistamines like chlorpheniramine maleate (Chlor-trimeton). Cats can take a week’s time to respond to these drugs. These however cannot be administered in case of emergencies or sudden flare ups. Fish oils and essential fatty acids are more like supplements rather than drugs, and takes weeks or months to show signs in your cat, but they should gradually reduce the flare-ups.
Third and final line of treatment includes allergy shots, or desensitization of cat’s immune system to the specific allergen. To determine the allergen, a blood test or intradermal skin tests are taken in a laboratory. Once the allergen is confirmed, allergy shots are administered once a week, usually orally. The aim of this exercise is to reboot the cat’s immune system to think the allergen is actually not harmful. This process takes about 1 year, and till then steroids can be administered to reduce the itching or flare ups.
It is important to note that most cats with atopic dermatitis also suffer from food allergy.
As the term indicates, contact allergies in cats arise due to skin contact with an allergic substance. This could be cat collars, clothes, soaps and shampoos or cat linen. Usually, by removing the element the allergy is cured, but it can be challenging to identify the allergen. Elimination method is suggested.
Allergy due to Dogs or contact with other animals
Cats living with dogs or other animals for instance the country side, can develop allergies through contact with these animals. The general symptom is itching, skin rash, watery eyes, wheezing or sneezing after playing with other animals in its presence.
The most common animal is dog. Dogs produce hair, dander, saliva, urine, feces etc, all these contain proteins that cause allergies in cats. This increases if the dog always stays indoors. It is advisable to take dogs out for a walk, reducing the risk of indoor fur shedding and excrements.
Diagnosing allergies due to dogs :
This is a simple procedure where an extract of dog allergen is placed on cat’s body to see a reaction in 48 hours. With constant monitoring, you can see the symptoms develop. Typically the results start showing in 30 minutes.
Treatment to Allergies in Cats :
It is essential to separate the dog, like changing the rooms or building a dog kennel outside the home or restricting its presence to a few spaces in your house, away from cat. It is advisable also to :
- Reduce presence of dog in the house or restrict to certain spaces
- Avoid using the same towels or linen for both cat and dog
- Weekly body wash to reduce pollen or other environmentally induced allergens
- Avoid hugging or playing with cat and dog at the same time
- Use of HEPA air filters
- Vacuum cleaning the floors and furniture to get rid of dog skin, hair, dander etc.
- Switch to skin sensitive non perfumed cat shampoos and soap like salmon oil shampoo.
Prevention Methods :
There is no exact way to prevent all the allergies but these steps should help :
- Limiting of exposure to pollen and other airborne allergens
- Getting rid of mold, spores on the walls and floor
- Weekly body wash or wipe
- Regulat vaccuum cleaning of surfaces to avoid hair or skin residues
- Cotton cat collars, clothes or other fabrics
- Dust free unperfumed cat litter with flea prevention pills.
- Ceramic cat bowl
Cat Veterinary clinics in U.S.A – Costs, availability, Funding Guide
Finding an experienced vet can be hard, especially in remote areas. You can use Pet Help Finder and search for certified vets in your city. The website also provides a list of pet supply stores and boarding facilities. Treatments can be expensive, especially in the U.S.A according to CareCredit and Daily Paws a routine vet checkup can cost about 150$, vaccinations ranging between 50 and 100$, Cat grooming service at an average of 60$ and flea/tick treatment between 150-200$. The average annual veterinary expenses for cats in U.S.A is 1150$, same as dogs, with an average lifetime expense for cats ranging between 20-50,000$ including food, supplies and vet treatment. You can find the complete list of costs below
How often should I take my cat to vets ?
According to Randy Wheeler from Iowa Veterinary Association, Vet visits start when your cat is 6-9 weeks old, requiring vaccines for calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, , and panleukopenia followed by a second round of vaccines a month later.
When your cat reaches 3 months of age, the first round of rabies vaccines are administered, followed by second round at 1 year, and then every 3 years. During these visits, cat deworming medications are also given, as most cats inherit some worms from its mother during pregnancy. During the same time, you can also discuss flea/tick issues if you find any.
Once the cat reaches 6 months of age, it can be neutered or spayed. During its course of adulthood, many issues or allergies, skin or teeth issues can arise, as discussed above. Your vet can advise you further on this.
Once the cat reaches an old age (typically 8-10 years ) it needs vet visits every 6 months.
Funding Options for Veterinary costs:
A cheaper alternative to Veterinary clinics is veterinary colleges and training schools, where the costs can be 50-80% cheaper as compared to regular vet clinics. Please visit the link above to find a list of colleges in your state. Several organizations like Maddy’s Fund, help with medical grants and research.
Grants and Payment in Installments :
Some credit companies help you cover your vet costs by allowing payment in installments over the time. Please check out Scratch Pay (Payment in Installments), Vet Billing (Payment in Installments), Petsmart Charities (inexpensive spay and neuter clinics), Actors and Others for Animals (spay and neuter funding), The Pet Fund, Frankie’s Friends (Grants upto 1500$), Shakespeare Funds (Northern Navada) and Friends and Vet Helping hands that offers partner voluntary veterinarians. You can find the complete list of organizations and charities here.