Identifying and Treating Environmental Allergies in Cats

An orange tabby cat itching.
An orange tabby cat itching. Photography by George Doyle/Thinkstock.

Like humans, cats can experience environmental allergies. The reactions occur when their immune systems are especially sensitive to a substance, even a common one. Allergies in cats usually begin when a kitty is young and progressively become worse throughout a cat’s life. Let’s take a look at the causes of environmental allergies in cats and how they can be treated:

The Most Common Environmental Allergies in Cats

A brown tabby cat lying down and feeling sick.
Should you get your cat tested for environmental allergies? Photography by Eugene03/Thinkstock.

The most common environmental allergens that affect cats are:

  1. Pollen (which can travel up to 100 miles)
  2. Mold spores
  3. Dust mites
  4. Animal dander
  5. Grass

Some of these irritants are seasonal and are more aggressive during certain times of the year. Many of us humans are familiar with the aggravating effects of seasonal allergies. They’re no fun for us or our cats.

Environmental Allergies in Cats — Atopic Dermatitis or Atopy in Cats

As the feline body tries to reject the offending allergen, bothersome symptoms occur. The most common symptoms for environmental allergies in cats are skin-related ones and are a result of atopic dermatitis (atopy), which is skin inflammation and extreme itchiness due to allergens. Naturally, a cat scratches, bites or excessively grooms these uncomfortable areas, sometimes resulting in bald patches or wounds that could become infected if left untreated.

The areas on a cat’s body that are typically affected by atopy are:

  1. Muzzles
  2. Wrists
  3. Ears
  4. Ankles
  5. Groins
  6. Underarms
  7. Area around the eyes (itchy or runny)
  8. Between the toes

Treatments for Environmental Allergies in Cats

If your cat is exhibiting atopic dermatitis symptoms due to environmental cat allergies, it’s important to consult your veterinarian. During an exam, the health professionals will review your cat’s complete medical history and discuss symptoms with you. If environmental allergies are suspected, the vet may recommend a course of action:

  1. Intradermal allergy testing on a feline is similar to the test performed on humans. Small amounts of common allergens are injected under the skin, and the veterinarian looks for an allergic response to one or more of them. Once the allergen is determined, hyposensitization therapy might be the next step. This involves regularly giving the cat small injections of the allergen to desensitize the immune system. This therapy could take six months to a year to work, and research has shown it is only 60- to 80-percent effective.
  2. Your vet may recommend antihistamines or corticosteroids to help reduce itching and discomfort. Over-the-counter sprays or creams are also available to lessen the itchy symptoms.

Management of Environmental Allergies in Cats

Because atopy in cats is a chronic condition, you’ll need to manage it for the rest of your cat’s life. There are, however, some ways you can help kitty stay comfortable:

  1. Schedule regular vet appointments as recommended by your health professional.
  2. If pollen or grass is an allergen, use your air conditioner in the summer months.
  3. If it doesn’t stress your cat out, try bathing him in anti-itch shampoo with cool water.
  4. Remove your cat from the room when you vacuum.
  5. If you notice dust, pollen or grass on your cat, wipe his body.
  6. Some vets recommend regular doses of Omega 3, which is a great supplement for skin and coat health. Ask your vet if it might be a good choice for your cat.

Environmental allergies in cats are irritating and could result in pain and even infection. If you suspect your cat might be affected by environmental allergies, call your vet’s office for guidance.

Thumbnail: Photography by George Doyle/Thinkstock.

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