Having a cat as a pet is a wonderful opportunity to connect with a companion. Returning home to your whiskered friend after a long day at work, playing with it, and watching it purr are just some of the simple pleasures that cat owners hold very dearly. But for all its perks, being responsible for a pet is not always smooth sailing.
If you own a cat, you would attest to the fact that these feline creatures can be quite high maintenance. In fact, unlike dogs, cats are famed for being quite the little divas with their fair share of tantrums. Not that anyone’s complaining. In fact, cat lovers around the world are united in their love for this very characteristic snobbishness of their four-legged friend.
Despite your best efforts to give your cat a comforting home, you may find yourself utterly helpless in the case of an ailing pet.
Allergies, for instance, are one of the most common health problems that afflict even the most sheltered and pampered cats globally. However, strays or cats that are allowed to roam outside are more likely to get seasonal allergies than those that remain strictly indoors.
Causes and Types of Feline Allergies
Just like people, cats with an especially sensitive immune system can develop allergies to things and substances in their food or environment.
A feline allergic reaction can stem from the most commonplace triggers, such as pollen, grass, dust, mold, mildew, food, fleas and flea-control products, prescription drugs, perfumes, cleaning products, cigarette smoke, fabrics, rubber, and plastic materials.
When exposed to the offending substance, the immune system of an allergic cat goes into overdrive and produces a protein called IgE in an effort to rid its body of what it perceives as a harmful invader. This protein, in turn, attaches itself to the cat’s skin cells, releasing an increased amount of itch-inducing histamine in the process.
There are essentially 4 categories of cat allergies, namely:
- Inhalant Allergy or Atopy: This is caused by breathing in seasonal or environmental irritants, including molds, dust mites, grass pollens, ragweed, mildew, and cedar.A cat can be allergic to more than one substance, which may or may not be seasonal. Thus, the duration of the allergic reaction can range from a few weeks at a time once or twice a year to the whole year round.
- Flea Allergy: This is caused by the deposition of flea saliva on the skin of an allergic cat, often over the rump.
- Food Allergy: Although cats are not born allergic to food products, they can develop an adverse reaction to something in their diet, which they may have only started eating or have eaten for a long time, at any given age. These allergies are generally in response to protein sources, such as beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, pork, and turkey. In some cases, the food allergy can be traced back to the carbohydrate component of your cat’s diet, which typically includes wheat, corn, and barley.
- Contact Allergy: This is the rarest form of feline allergy, which develops when your kitty’s skin reacts to certain irritants it comes in contact with, such as bedding fabric like wool and flea collars.
Some other common culprits for allergies in cats include:
- Household cleaning products
- Strong fragrances and colognes
- Plastic and rubber materials
- Prescription medication
- Cigarette smoke
- Cat litter
Signs and Symptoms of Allergies in Cats
Cats with allergies tend to exhibit severe itching and other signs of skin irritation and inflammation associated with allergic dermatitis. Aside from the skin, an allergic over-reaction can also adversely affect the cat’s respiratory and digestive systems, giving rise to significantly discomforting symptoms, such as:
- Sneezing, coughing, and wheezing, especially if the cat has asthma
- Itchy and runny eyes
- Ear infections
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
- Paw chewing or swollen, sensitive paws
- Skin irritation
- Excessive scratching
- Bald patches
Treatment and Prevention of Allergies in Cats
In order to comfort an allergy-ridden cat, it is essential to first identify the source of its distress. Thus, if you suspect that your kitty seems unusually itchy or seems off in any way that points towards an allergy, get it properly assessed and evaluated by a veterinarian.
Once you have zeroed in on the potential allergen, the next step is to remove it from your cat’s vicinity. Your cat’s allergic reaction is bound to persist as long as it remains exposed to the offending substance.
- If your cat is allergic to environmental irritants that lodge into your pet’s furry skin, such as pollen, fungus, mold, and dust, it may not be possible to eliminate the allergen for good. The vet may prescribe medications, such as steroids or cortisone, antihistamines, or a fatty acid supplement, to alleviate the itch.
- Similarly, veterinarian-recommended flea and tick preventatives are likely to do the trick if a flea-induced allergy is at play. In the absence of a strict flea control, corticosteroid injections are warranted to quell the allergic reaction.
Moreover, if the cat develops a secondary bacterial infection at the affected skin site, the vet will prescribe the needful antibiotics to stop it from spreading.
- Some cats are allergic to their litter box or sandbox. This problem can easily be addressed by replacing your normal litter pan with a dust-free alternative, such as one made of clay.
The diagnosis of food allergies requires a bit of detective work. The pet parent will have to work closely with the vet to design a novel hypoallergenic diet that is free from potentially offending irritants. The pet will be exclusively administered to this diet for at least eight to 12 weeks to allow its system time to rid itself of any traces of the allergen.
Subsequently, the original components of your cat’s normal fare will have to be reintroduced one by one, and you will have to look for the reemergence of allergy symptoms. You may need to provide your cat with a prescription diet or even home-cooked meals free of the offending allergens.
Moreover, your vet may recommend additional dietary supplements to make up for your cat’s nutrient needs while this elimination diet is underway.
Role of Genetic Factors, Time, and Age in Cat Allergies
Your pet may develop an allergy in as early as three months to 8 years or longer, depending on the type of allergy. Seventy percent of cases of atopic dermatitis can start within 1-3 years of age, whereas food allergies can begin at any age.
For flea allergy dermatitis, no age predilection is reported, although a strong, adverse response to flea saliva may take place in your pet after only a few exposures.
A pet does not pick up an allergy after only a brief encounter with the offending substance. For an allergy to manifest visible symptoms, the pet must be exposed to the allergen for some time. The reason for this incubatory period is that an allergic reaction is not a natural immune response but a learned phenomenon.
As a result of repeated or prolonged exposure to the allergen, the body tends to develop a hypersensitivity response that eventually becomes programmed into your pet’s immune system.
Thus, some pet allergies tend to travel across generations to their offspring who inherit them as part of their genetic makeup. Unlike most allergies, however, a strong adverse response to specific triggers such as insect bites may take effect in your pet after only a few exposures.
Relieving Allergies in Cats
If your cat suffers from seasonal allergies, steroids and other medications are easily available treatment options. However, if you want to use natural remedies, there are several options available that can help your kitty.
Natural remedies help fight the symptoms and build the immunity. They may also help eliminate the need to deal with any potential side effects that may be caused by traditional allopathic medications.
Here are 10 home remedies for allergies in cats.
1. Add Apple Cider Vinegar to Your Cat’s Water
Apple cider vinegar is an effective treatment for any kind of allergies in cats.
It has antibacterial and mild antibiotic properties that make it great for a wash that can remove irritants from your cat’s skin. In addition to removing allergens, it also boosts your cat’s immunity.
- Add ½ teaspoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to your cat’s water bowl.
- Another option is to mix ¼ teaspoon of apple cider vinegar into your cat’s food twice a day.
- Just mix apple cider vinegar and water in equal amounts and either spray or dab the mixture onto the problem areas.
2. Use Coconut Oil
You can use coconut oil both internally and externally to help treat cat allergies.
Coconut oil contains antioxidant properties that prevent cell damage and help repair itchy or dry skin due to allergies. In addition to its skin-healing effect, coconut oil is especially beneficial in curbing allergic reactions to fleas.
If used externally, the high fat content in coconut oil helps keep the skin moisturized and also promotes the growth of healthy skin and hair. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties also help keep bacterial and fungal infections from occurring.
When taken orally, coconut oil can help boost your cat’s immune system, but be aware that there are concerns about the high fat content in coconut oil and the potential risk of pancreatitis.
Coconut oil is also associated with weight gain and can trigger some gastrointestinal issues, so it is important to start at the lowest effective dose, about 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon daily, and if any adverse effects are noted (such as vomiting, diarrhea, and food aversion), discontinue use.
- For internal use, just add one small teaspoon of extra virgin coconut oil to each feeding. Dose would start as stated above, 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon daily.
- Externally, apply coconut oil on the affected skin area a few times a day.
3. Bathe Your Cat Twice a Week
Try giving your cat a bath whenever there are signs of seasonal allergies.
Bathing your cat one or two times a week helps relieve itching and remove environmental allergens and pollens from the skin. Proper hygiene is also imperative to ensure your cat’s overall health and stave off additional diseases.
- If your cat spends time outside, it is highly recommended to rinse his or her feet daily.
- You can ask your veterinarian to recommend an appropriate hypoallergenic shampoo for your pet, as frequent bathing with a harsh cleanser can dry out your cat’s skin and lead to more irritation.
4. Oatmeal Soak
A soothing oatmeal soak is all that your cat needs when suffering from skin rashes and itchiness due to allergies.
Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties, and cats may feel instant relief upon soaking. Additionally, the mineral and vitamin contents in it help the skin heal, especially the hot spots and irritated patches.
- Combine ¾ cup of rolled oats with ½ cup of warm water.
- Mix well until a thick paste is created.
- Directly apply this oatmeal paste to the cat’s skin and fur.
- Allow the oatmeal paste to rest on the skin for at least 10 minutes.
- Rinse the oatmeal off with water.
- Repeat the treatment at least two to three times per week until the allergy symptoms heal.
5. Apply Licorice Paste
The natural cortisone in licorice root helps regulate the immune system the same way as a medicinal steroid does. It soothes mucous membranes, detoxifies the liver, and has anti-inflammatory properties. All of these virtues make it a very effective healing agent for treating your cat’s allergic distress.
- Make a paste with licorice powder and water. Apply the paste on the allergy-affected skin. Allow it to air-dry and then rinse it with water. Do this once daily.
6. Add Fish Oil to Your Cat’s Food
Fish oil can be added to your cat’s food, especially when suffering from allergy-related symptoms.
A 2018 study published in Environmental Health suggests that fish oil supplementation may protect against the proallergic sensitization effects of traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) exposure.
Fish oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 helps bolster the skin’s defensive shield and staves off the risk of secondary infections. Omega-3 also works as an anti-inflammatory agent, which reduces itching and hot spots.
When it comes to supplements, it is recommended to consult a vet for the correct dosage.
7. Spray Chamomile-infused Water on Your Cat’s Skin
It also works as a mild antiseptic and promotes healing of open wounds that may develop on your cat’s body due to the incessant scratching and chewing of the irritated skin.
- In 1 cup of hot water, add 1 tablespoon of chamomile.
- Cover and steep for 10 minutes.
- Allow it to cool and then transfer it into a spray bottle.
- Spray it on the affected skin areas and allow it to air dry.
- Do this twice daily
8. Keep Your Home Allergen-Free
Keeping your home as allergen-free as possible is perhaps the best way to prevent cat allergies.
To prevent dust from triggering your cat’s allergy symptoms, clean your pet’s bedding and vacuum the rugs, curtains, and any other materials that gather dust once a week. Also try to vacuum and wipe surfaces on a regular basis, especially the windowsills.
To keep irritants out of your home, remove your shoes before entering. If you don’t wish to walk barefoot around your house, change into slippers or other footwear that is meant to be worn indoors only. Also, make sure to wash your cat’s paws after it returns from a stroll outside or just generally before making it enter the house.
Change the filters in your air conditioning and heating units on schedule, and consider purchasing an air purifier to keep pollen and dust at bay.
Do not forget to change your cat’s cat litter daily and switch to a cat litter brand that does not produce too much dust, causing allergies.
9. Build Immunity
To prevent allergies in cats, you need to build your cat’s immunity. All you need to do is add some supplements to your cat’s diet to improve the functioning of the immune system.
Some supplements that are beneficial for your cat’s overall health are omega fatty acids and vitamins C, and E. Before adding any supplement to your cat’s diet, consult your vet.
10. Let Your Feline Friend Rest Sufficiently
When suffering from allergy symptoms, your cat may feel tired and fatigued. It is important for you to make your feline friend rest as much as possible. Proper rest will help its body recuperate fast and allow its immune system to optimize its maximum potential.
During the allergy season or when your cat is in the throes of an allergic reaction, try to keep her at home as much as possible as exposure to pollen and dust from the outside environment will only worsen the symptoms and delay the recovery.
- Diesel A. Cutaneous Hypersensitivity Dermatoses in the Feline Patient: A Review of Allergic Skin Disease in Cats. Veterinary Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ articles/PMC5606602/. Published May 9, 2017.
- Verlinden A, Hesta M, Millet S, Janssens GP. Food allergy in dogs and cats: a review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/16527756. Published 2006.
- Carlotti DN, Jacobs DE. Therapy, control and prevention of flea allergy dermatitis in dogs and cats. Veterinary Dermatology . https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/ 10.1046/j.1365-3164.2000.00204.x. Published December 25, 2001.
- Linneberg A, Nielsen NH, Menné T. Smoking might be a risk factor for contact allergy. Plum X Metrix. https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(03)80124-0/ abstract. Published May 2003.
- Yagnik D, Serafin V, Shah AJ. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Scientific Reports. https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5788933/. Published January 29, 2018.
- Lin T- K, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796020/. Published December 27, 2017.
- Reynertson KA, Garay M, Nebus J, et al. Anti-inflammatory activities of colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) contribute to the effectiveness of oats in treatment of itch associated with dry, irritated skin. Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD. https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25607907. Published January 2015.
- Pazyar, N, Yaghoobi R, Kazerouni A. Oatmeal in dermatology: A brief review. Indian journal of dermatology, venereology and leprology. http://www.ijdvl.com/article.asp? issn=0378-6323;year=2012;volume=78;issue=2;spage=142;epage=145;aulast=Pazyar. Published 2012.
- Yang R, Liu Y, Zhou S. The anti-inflammatory activity of licorice, a widely used Chinese herb. Pharmaceutical Biology . https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/ 10.1080/13880209.2016.1225775. Published July 31, 2015.
- Karaoğul E, Parlar P, Parlar H. Enrichment of the Glycyrrhizic Acid from Licorice Roots (Glycyrrhiza glabra L.) by Isoelectric Focused Adsorptive Bubble Chromatography. Journal of Analytical Methods in Chemistry. https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4753350/. Published February 1, 2016.
- Barcelos RC, de C, Antoniazzi CT, et al. Oral supplementation with fish oil reduces dryness and pruritus in the acetone-induced dry skin rat model. Journal of Dermatological Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26195090. Published September 2015.
- Hansell AL, Bakolis I, Cowie CT. Childhood fish oil supplementation modifies associations between traffic related air pollution and allergic sensitisation. Environmental Health. https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/ s12940-018-0370-5. Published March 27, 2018.
- Wu YN, Xu Y, Yao L. Anti-inflammatory and Anti-allergic Effects of German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.). Journal of Essential Oil Bearing Plants . https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0972060X.2011.10643972. Published July 9, 2010.
- Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular Medicine Reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ articles/PMC2995283/. Published November 1, 2010.
- Aslam MF, Majeed S, Aslam S, Irfan JA. Vitamins: Key Role Players in Boosting Up Immune Response-A Mini Review. Vitamins & Minerals . https:// www.omicsonline.org/open-access/vitamins-key-role-players-in-boosting-up-immune-responsea-mini-review-2376-1318-1000153.php?aid=87232. Published March 31, 2017.