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Environmental Allergies in Cats

By Colleen Williams
January 10, 2012 • 2 min. read
allergies in cats

Although this type of allergy is more common in dogs than cats, it still can occur. Cats that suffer from environmental allergies experience unpleasant symptoms and complications. This is a chronic condition that can be managed by dedicated pet parents.

Causes of allergies in cats

Allergies are caused by an overreaction from the animal’s immune system to a particular allergen in their environment. The most common culprits are airborne pollen, animal dander, mold spores, and dust mites. It’s also thought that this condition is passed genetically. Cats may also be allergic to foods and fleas, but those are different types.

Signs and symptoms of cat allergies

Also known as atopic dermatitis, or atopy, environmental allergies manifest as a skin condition that causes extreme itchiness. As a result, a cat with this condition with excessively scratch, bite, and groom themselves, often to the point of baldness. The areas around the ears, eyes, toes, wrists, ankles, muzzle, underarms, and groin are the most prone to irritation. Some cats will bite themselves so much they bleed, creating open sores and wounds that can become infected.

How to care for a cat with allergies

A complete medical history and physical examination will be needed by the vet. Intradermal allergy testing, where small amounts of common allergens are injected under the skin to provoke an allergic response, is a common diagnostic tool.

Once the allergen is identified, hyposensitization therapy is an option. This involves giving the cat small injections of the particular allergen to desensitize the immune system and provoke a less severe immune response. However, a drawback to this treatment is the length of time that is needed – it may take six months up to a year to fully work, but it is also 60 to 80 percent effective. Medications like corticosteroids and antihistamines may also be prescribed to reduce severe itching. Over-the-counter and prescription sprays are also available to use over large areas of your pet’s body.

Managing your cat’s allergies

As environmental allergies are a chronic condition, you will need to care for your cat throughout the rest of their life. After treatment begins, regular vet appointments every 2 to 8 weeks are necessary to see if treatments are working. Cats with well-controlled allergies should still schedule checkups every 3 to 12 months. Your vet will recommend how best to avoid the allergic trigger, but bathing your cat with cool water anti-itch shampoos containing oatmeal or eucalyptus can soothe itchy skin.

If your cat has environmental allergies, it’s extremely important that you seek treatment to prevent complications like bacterial infection of open wounds. Anti-itch shampoos, ointments, and sprays can alleviate your cat’s symptoms, but scheduling regular vet appointments and exploring all treatment options is also essential. Find out more treatment options and their corresponding costs in our Cost of Pet Care Report.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical diagnosis, condition, or treatment options.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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