Itchy Kitty? Signs of and Treatment for Allergies in Cats

A sign of allergies in cats is paw chewing

Reviewed by Dr. Kellie Kuzdas

Allergies are fun for no one, including our kitties. While you may recognize allergies in yourself -- the stuffy nose and runny, itchy eyes that come with ragweed, pollen, and mold in the air -- you might not be as aware of the signs that your feline friend is suffering, too.

Let’s take a look at allergies in cats and what you can do to help your cat with allergies.

What are cats allergic to?

Allergies in cats occur when a cat’s immune system overreacts to a foreign substance called an allergen. Just like allergies in dogs, allergies in cats can be broken into four types: inhalant, contact, flea, and food. The related allergens that can cause problems for your cat include:

  • Pollen, grass, mold, mildew, and dust mites
  • Perfumes and colognes
  • Household cleaning products
  • Some cat litters
  • Fleas or flea-control products
  • Food
  • Prescription drugs

All cats are at risk for developing allergies. Allergies tend to be more common among outdoor cats since they’re exposed to a wider range of allergens. They’re especially prone to flea and pollen allergies.

What are the signs of allergies in cats?

There are a number of signs of allergies in cats. In addition to extreme itchiness and skin problems, your cat may show the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing, coughing, and wheezing (especially if the cat has asthma)
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Ear infections
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Paw chewing or swollen, sensitive paws

Flea allergy is the most common allergy in cats, and a cat with a flea allergy will experience intense itching, even from just one bite. The intense itching and chewing often lead to hair loss and open sores or scabs, which results in a secondary bacterial infection that will need to be treated with antibiotics.

Inhalant allergy or atopy is sometimes referred to as "seasonal allergies." Humans allergic to inhalants (ex. pollens) experience respiratory problems. In cats, the primary sign of atopy is severe, generalized itching.

Food allergies have become the second most common allergy in cats, and they typically develop in response to the protein in a food. Signs of a food allergy include itching, digestive issues, and respiratory distress.

In the rare case of a contact allergy, a cat’s skin will be irritated and itchy at the points where the skin has had contact with the allergen. The itch is localized as opposed to the generalized itching with an inhalant allergy.

What should I do if I think my cat has allergies?

If something is irritating your kitty and you think it could be allergies, the best thing to do is visit your veterinarian. He or she will take a complete history and do a physical exam of your cat.

The health history and exam help determine the source of your cat’s allergies. To narrow down the cause, your veterinarian may suggest blood or skin tests.

If your veterinarian suspects a food allergy, he or she will recommend an elimination diet or special hypoallergenic diet, such as Royal Canin’s Hydrolyzed Protein cat food. It’s critical that this diet is fed as instructed by your veterinarian. It must be fed exclusively, and your cat shouldn’t get any treats (unless they’re Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Protein Feline Treats), other foods, or flavored medications during the elimination period. Even the tiniest amount of the offending protein can ruin the results of the elimination diet.

How do I treat my cat’s allergies?

The best way to treat allergies in cats is to remove the offending allergens from your cat’s environment.

  • The best way to remove fleas from your environment is to prevent them from entering it in the first place. Use a veterinarian-recommended flea/tick preventative such as Revolution or Bravecto Topical Solution for cats. Badger Veterinary Hospital carries Revolution and Bravecto Topical Solution in our clinics; additional flea/tick preventatives are available through our online pharmacy.
  • Switch to a dust-free, unscented cat litter if the chemicals in scented litter are an issue.
  • To reduce the impact of pollens, mold, or dust, bathing your cat one to two times a week helps remove environmental allergens from the skin and relieve itching. Your veterinarian can recommend a shampoo that will help prevent drying out your cat’s skin.
  • Also helpful for dust allergies is regular cleaning. Clean your cat’s bedding once a week and vacuum at least twice a week.
  • If your cat is diagnosed with a food allergy, your veterinarian will recommend a prescription diet.

Unfortunately, not all allergens can be removed from your cat’s environment. When this is the case, your veterinarian may recommend medication, such as cortisone or steroids.

Are you concerned about your cat’s itching? Do you think your cat may have allergies? Call today to schedule an appointment with your Badger Veterinary Hospital veterinarian!