How to Spot the Signs of Seasonal Allergies in Cats
Cat allergies don't usually come in the form of respiratory issues, but in cats who have a weakened immune system -- such as cats with FIV or FeLV, elderly cats, young cats, or those with issues of the lung or respiratory tract like asthma -- seasonal allergies can look a lot like yours. For those cats, it's best to consult a vet for the best course of treatment.
Otherwise, most seasonal allergies manifest as a condition called atopic dermatitis, or "Help! My immune system is overreacting to something on my skin and I ITCH!" Most cats don't develop the runny nose, itchy eyes, and watery sinuses that humans do. Instead, their allergies show up on their skin and coat, which can make it hard to determine whether the cause of their itching is seasonal allergies or an allergic reaction to something in their food, bedding, fleas, or any of an untold number of skin problems that can occur in cats.
Whether your cat is running from the nose or her little paws itch and are inflamed, the source of allergies is much the same: A compound called histamine.
Histamine is released by the body when an allergen is encountered. This triggers an immune system response and the body starts reacting to fight off the perceived invader. In this case, there is no invader. Just the early signs of spring. So you and your cat end up as miserable messes.
There are very few safe over-the-counter remedies for feline allergic responses. Your vet can advise you of the proper medications and dosages for mild cases of allergic responses, especially if you catch the warning signs of an allergy early in the season.
And just what are those warning signs? Redness is a big one. A red belly, red paws, reddened eyes, nose, mouth and even a reddened anus can be a sign that your little buddy is about to start suffering from seasonal allergies. The next thing you'll notice is itching -- itching EVERYWHERE. He'll scratch and groom to excess, sometimes even causing bald spots, and this is where the problems really start, because when the fur grows in, it itches more, causing him to scratch more, and a vicious cycle that transcends seasonal allergies begins.
So, short of taking your cat to the vet, what can you do at home to lessen the burden of seasonal allergies?
If your cat isn't already an indoor-only cat, consider making the switch. If this isn't feasible for one reason or another, limit the amount of time your cat spends outdoors during allergy season.
For starters, reduce the amount of allergens in your home. If your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat, wipe her paws off when she comes inside so that she isn't tracking in pollen and debris. Give her regular baths to reduce the amount of allergens trapped in her fur.
Clean up around the house. Nobody likes housework, but regular vacuuming, mopping and dusting can go a long way in keeping your little buddy happy and healthy during allergy season. You might even see an improvement in your symptoms, too.
Limit the hours you keep your windows open to times when the pollen count is at its lowest. Dawn and dusk are big offenders for high pollen counts, and some days are just miserable. If leaving your windows closed isn't an option, consider investing in a HEPA filter to remove some of the allergens from the air in your home.
Primarily, though, seasonal allergies are a problem for the professionals. Work with your vet and groomer to stop any skin problems before they start. Both can recommend a good shampoo to remove allergens while still being gentle on the skin. Your vet can recommend a topical solution for itching, and if the reaction is severe, may recommend steroid shots to reduce the inflammatory response caused by histamine in the body.
Do you have a cat who suffers from seasonal allergies? How do you deal with the misery? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!
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About Caitlin Seida: Owned by three cats and two dogs, she never met an animal she didn't like. A Jill-of-All-Trades, she splits her workday as a writer, humane society advocate and on-call vet tech. What little free time she has goes into pinup modeling, advocating for self-acceptance, knitting and trying to maintain her haunted house (really!).