Cats are prone to many of the same diseases that affect us; including allergies. Approximately 15 percent of our cat population suffers from allergies .and most cats with allergies suffer from more than one type. Allergies are caused by an overreaction of the body's immune system to substances that it perceives as a threat. The body produces histamine to fight off these perceived threats, causing an allergic response.
There are four distinct types of allergies that can affect cats; contact, flea, inhalant and food. The signs, symptoms and treatment will be slightly different depending on the cause of the allergy.
Flea allergy, or flea bite dermatitis, is the most common form of feline allergy. The allergic reaction is caused by the saliva from the flea, not the flea itself. In cats that are allergic to flea saliva, it only takes one flea bite to start an intense allergic reaction. Cats with a flea allergy will scratch incessantly, even to the point of tearing into their own skin. Many cats with flea allergies will pull out large tufts of fur, resulting in bald spots; these spots are on the back, just above the base of the tail. Another common sign of flea bite allergy is small scabs on the head and neck. Often, the intense itching will lead to secondary bacterial infections of the skin.
Treatment for flea bite allergy is first aimed at removing the cause of the problem, the flea itself. Your veterinarian will probably prescribe steroids to relieve the itching and antibiotics to treat any secondary infection. A flea prevention program is an important part of the overall treatment plan.
Inhalant allergy, also called atopy, is a very common form of feline allergies. Atopy is caused by normal substances found in the environment, such as mold, mildew, pollen and dust mites. Signs of an inhalant allergy include intense scratching around the face, belly and feet; respiratory problems such as sneezing and wheezing may also indicate an inhalant allergy. Inhalant allergies may be seasonal or may last all year.depending on the cat's exposure to the allergen.
Treatment for inhalant allergies is difficult since we are unable to remove the cause from the cat's environment. Although it is possible to give cats "allergy shots," due to the expense and success rate (about 50 percent), this treatment is not widely used. The most common form of treatment for atopy is aimed at relieving and controlling the itching. This is accomplished by oral or injected steroids and using hypo-allergenic shampoo.
Cats are not born with food allergies; they develop allergies to foods that have been a part of their normal diet for a long time. Food allergies are fairly common in cats; probably because most cat foods contain the types of foods that normally cause food allergies. These may include beef, lamb, seafood, soy, corn, wheat gluten and dairy products. Signs of a food allergy include intense non-seasonal scratching, usually around the head and neck, as well as ear infections and hair loss. Some cats may experience diarrhea or respiratory problems.
The diagnosis of a food allergy is usually made after other causes have been eliminated. Cats with food allergies usually show little response to steroid treatment; if symptoms persist after steroid treatment, your veterinarian will probably suggest a food trial. To perform a food trial, place your cat on a strict hypoallergenic diet for eight to12 weeks; reintroduce a single ingredient to the diet every two weeks. With this process, you and your veterinarian can determine the cause of the food allergy and avoid this ingredient in your cat's diet.
Contact allergies occur when your cat's skin comes into contact with a foreign substance that has a negative impact on the skin. This type of allergy can be caused by flea collars, material used in pet bedding or household cleaners. The signs include redness and hair loss at the site of contact as well as intense scratching. Removing the allergen will result in a complete cure, and you cat will experience no further complications. Contact allergies are the least common type of feline allergies.