What are some common cat allergies?

There are generally three different types of cat allergies. I would have to say the most common one is flea allergies. The second most common would probably be food allergies, and the last one would be more of a seasonal/environmental allergy.

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

How do allergies impact the health and wellbeing of my cat?

Anybody who's ever experienced allergies themselves or had dogs with allergies would know that your cats can suffer just as much. The problem is we see kitties coming in that are biting, scratching, licking, itching, and chewing. They are miserable. A lot of times, most kitty owners never see their cats biting, scratching, licking, itching, or chewing, but they see and feel the sores. They could feel them all the way from the back of the neck to the base of their tail. They feel like little scabs all over their bodies. Those cats are really miserable. But cats are kind of unique compared to dogs. One way they're unique is cats are very private about their grooming or their chewing habits. Dogs are very public about it. They want everybody to see it, but with cats, many cat owners never see their cats licking and grooming themselves successfully. Maybe they see some routine cleaning. These cats are really miserable when they have sores, and then you roll them over and look at their belly, and they're raw because they're ripping their hair out.

What preventive care can I provide my cat to help avoid allergies?

It depends on what the source of the allergy is. I will talk a little bit about fleas in the context of cats because it's quite different from dogs. The first thing you need to do is get them on a good quality flea medication. Please don't buy the crap you'll get at big box stores or pet stores. They're using a 30-year-old product that hasn't worked in years.

We've got about three or four different products that we commonly use for cats that do a great job of controlling fleas. Here's the interesting thing when you think about fleas. Think about what cats do. They basically do three things. They sleep, they eat, and they groom themselves a lot. They have a grooming ritual about them, whereas dogs do not. Cats are constantly grooming themselves. There was an experiment done about 30, 35 years ago where they took cats, put them in a container individually, and put a hundred fleas in each container. Within an hour, they went back to count how many fleas were still present on the cats. On average, they found three out of a hundred. What happened over the course of the hour with the other 97 is the cats ingested them because cats are constantly grooming themselves.

Dogs will bite and scratch, lick and chew where they get a flea bite, but cats try to hunt down the fleas for the most part. So they'll ingest them. A lot of people never actually see a flea on their cat, but if we do see a cat coming in with hair loss, particularly above the tail or on the belly or where they got the scabs up to the neck, we always assume first that it is a flea allergy. In which case, we want to use an appropriate flea medication to eliminate the fleas. Otherwise, for those cats, I will typically use a form of cortisone. The good news is cats are relatively tolerant of cortisone. Obviously, we don't want to abuse the product, but they're more tolerant of it than dogs and people. So if I give them a cortisone shot and we get them on some free medication, these cats are feeling so much better within just a few days.

What are some signs and symptoms that my cat may have allergies?

Cats that have sore and scabs on them, as described before. These are typically found from the back of the neck all the way to the base of the tail. Sometimes you'll see it on the belly. There's another part of the body that would lead me to think of a food allergy, and that's a cat that is ripping its face, neck, and ears. If I see a cat with an ear problem, we'll look for ear mites, but only if it's an outside cat. We do have products to take care of mites, which are the same products we use for fleas for cats. If you are using one of our flea products for cats, you won't have an ear mite problem. That's one of the considerations with food allergies. It's primarily associated with the neck, the face, and around the ears. We need to change the diet of kitties with food allergies.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing allergies in my cat?

There's nothing wrong with self-diagnosing, but then what are you going to do with that information? We get so many people who say, I think it's this, so I'm going to do this. That may or may not be the most prudent thing to do for your cat. First, recognize if you think your cat has allergies. And if you're not comfortable trying to do anything, that's what we are here for. You can let us make the diagnosis. Let us do what we feel will be in the best interest of trying to help your cat. I am fine with somebody having a suspicion of what they think is going on because that means they care enough to pay attention to what their cat's doing.

A big part of making the diagnosis is having a pet or cat owner pay attention to what their cats or dogs are doing. How long has this been going on? What are they doing? Have they tried anything at home to try to give their cats or dogs relief from the allergies? By all means, I don't have any problem with somebody trying to self-diagnose, but what will you do with that information?

How will a veterinarian diagnose whether or not my cat has allergies?

That goes along the same lines. Most of that diagnosis comes from information we get from the kitty owner. If the kitty parent is really tuned into the cat, and they noticed he just started doing this about a couple of weeks ago, and he's done the same thing the last three years around the same time, that's extremely valuable information that would tell me, yes, they have a seasonal issue. If you happen to see that there are some fleas, or you see even one flea, that's all the information we need. That's all the diagnostics we need to figure out what's going on and what we need to do. The big thing is we first need to make sure that the more attentive and the more information we can get from pet parents, the better we can assist and try to help your pet.

What are some of the most common cat allergies?

I see the big three in cats above all else: food, seasonal, and flea allergies.

What types of treatments can be used to relieve the symptoms of a cat that is suffering from allergies?

It depends on what the source of the algae is. If we think it's fleas, then we're going to do two things: get them on an appropriate, effective flea product. Let me emphasize effective because, as I've mentioned, there's so much junk still in the market that people still buy, but guess what? It doesn't work that well. If it's fleas, we will get them on an appropriate and effective flea product, and I like to use a form of cortisone to give those cats relief right away. We need to ensure that we don't continue getting flea infestation.

If it's a seasonal issue, in many cases, we will use cortisone for those cats as well. I recommend frequently wiping your kitties down to remove any pollen or dust that is getting onto your cats. Wipe them down with a washcloth and cool water. Cats are obviously pretty effective at cleaning themselves, but this is just an added benefit of keeping them as dust and pollen-free as possible. Regarding food allergies, we have to have a discussion first to find out what your kitty is eating. We know the primary triggers for cat food allergies are fish, dairy, and beef, which account for about 80% of all cat food allergies. They can be allergic to anything, but those account for the majority of the food allergies, and if your cat's eating any one of those three, then we will switch to a different diet. It makes it a little bit trickier if you've got a multi-cat household, and they're all eating the same thing. Then you have to switch only one cat's food, but that's something we can always work around. So it really depends on the cause. That will determine what we're going to do to try to help your kitty.

How effective are treatments for cats suffering from allergies?

Extremely effective. We have great success with the medications that we use. Whether it's a dietary change for cats with food allergies, a cortisone shot and flea medications for cats with flea allergies. For cats with seasonal allergies, in many cases, we'll use cortisone as well. We can't cure the problems, but we can prevent the issues. We can certainly treat and effectively manage any of the problems that we see with your cat's allergies.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Allergies - FAQs

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

What are some signs my cat is having an allergic reaction to something?

There are three different types of allergies we see in cats: food allergies, seasonal allergies, and flea allergies, and all of those have different means of resolving the issue. Although it's so rare in cats, occasionally, we might see a cat that might even get a vaccine, for example, and react in a way where they might get intestinal upset, vomiting, and things of that nature. Another example is a bee sting. Cats can also be affected the same way people and dogs can from an insect bite or sting. So when we're talking about an allergic reaction, there's a wide scope of information.

How will seasonal allergies present in my cat?

Seasonal allergies are typically seasonal. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but when somebody brings a kitty to me, one of the first things I want to find out is how long the problem has been going on and has this problem occurred in the past? Is there a pattern to it? Is there a particular seasonal pattern year over year? Maybe it's the first time it's shown up, but maybe it's the fourth or fifth time. If we can see a pattern to when it develops, whether in the spring or summer or a combination of those seasons, that is extremely valuable information to help us better understand the seasonality of an allergy.

How will my cat's allergies be diagnosed?

A lot of the diagnosis comes from information that the kitty apparent can provide to me. Let me know if this problem has been a recurring problem? Has this been about the same time each year? We're trying to get a better sense of if this is a problem that's year over year or if it is a brand new problem? But again, we're trying to get a better sense of the problem's origin. Once we have the kitty on the table, we're going to take a look and see what kind of hair loss, sores, lesions, scabs, or whatever is going on with this cat's skin to give me a better sense of what the origin is. If I see problems primarily around the head, neck, and face, I'm always going to think of food allergies first. If I see a cat with not necessarily hair loss but a lot of scabbing from the neck, in the back end, or above the tail, we're always going to think of either seasonal allergies or a flea allergy. Then we like to look at the belly of the cat. A lot of times, people never look at their cat's belly because unless their cat happens to be laying on a sofa and you want to give a little belly rubbing, some cats like it, some cats don't. But when you happen to look at the belly, they may be ripping. We've seen cats with horrendous areas on their belly where they're red and raw, and they've ripped out all the hair. All of that will be information for me to better understand what's likely causing the problem in the first place.

How are my cat's skin allergies treated?

In two ways. Primarily, we first need to find out the problem's source. I say two ways, but it depends on the problem. If I suspect a food allergy, then first things first, we're going to change the diet. The three most common causes of food allergies in cats are dairy, fish, and beef. That's going to account for the majority of food allergies we see in cats. If we suspect a food allergy, first, let's change the diet. With flea allergies, pretty simple, we'll get them an effective flea product. We carry a range of different flea products that do work, not like the crap you buy at the pet stores and such. I like to give those cats a cortisone shot, not for the fleas but for the relief from the intense itching, biting, scratching, licking, and chewing they're doing. If they get a seasonal allergy, typically, the first thing I'm going to do is also give those cats a cortisone shot. I should mention the cortisone shot usually lasts about four to six weeks. So it gives them plenty of time to get some relief from the itching, which takes a few days but also gives them continuous protection from the itching, so they're not back at ripping themselves again. We have to get those allergies under control. With the seasonal allergies, at the very minimum, I'll encourage pet owners to start taking the washcloth and water and keep wiping their kitties down three times a day to remove any pollens, dust, and things of that nature that could be triggering a seasonal or environmental allergy.

How can food allergies be treated?

By changing the food. But here's the problem: a lot of people think they can change brands. They think it's a brand problem. It's not. This is an ingredient issue. So you've got to be intentional about what you change your pet's diet to. You can stay within the same brand of food. We just need to look for a different ingredient and a different primary ingredient you're feeding. When I say the primary ingredient, I'm talking about protein. The vast majority of the allergies we see in dogs and cats when it comes to food is the main protein of the diet. Cats primarily eat beef, fish, and dairy. For dogs, it's usually chicken and beef. If I have a cat eating a fish-based diet, I like to try something a little bit more exotic. I like to go with something like, believe it or not, a rabbit diet. That's pretty easy to find for the most part. Hopefully, COVID hasn't created too many issues in the supply chain for rabbit food, but I think that's always a good choice for most cats. But you have to change the food. The second thing is if you have other cats in the house and they're getting a different diet, you have to be very intentional about making sure the kitty that we suspect has a food allergy cannot access your other cats' food. Third, if you have a cat that goes outside, we're kind of rolling the dice because if your cat likes to roam the neighborhood and it might find another food source, that can be a little bit out of our control. If you've got some neighbors who are putting some food out to get in good graces with your kitty, have a conversation with them or give them some food. You can say, here, I'm going to give you the food. This is what they can eat, and let them put that food out. So there are ways of getting around that, but the key thing is that you have to be very intentional about what they consume.

Can I give my cat Benadryl?

You can. I don't know why you would, but it almost never works for cats. Typically, we have to give them the liquid, and good luck, because it tastes pretty bad for cats. You'll probably have to be prepared and have some bandaids and a first aid kit handy if you try to give Benadryl to your cat. But basically, no, it almost never works for dogs. I would never recommend that for a cat. You can do it, but why would you?

Are there other allergy medications my cat can take?

As far as something you would give out of the house, I would say no. Something that we give, yes. As I mentioned a couple of times earlier in this conversation, we use cortisone in the form of an injection. You don't have to give pills because, obviously, that can be problematic for some kitty owners. The injection typically lasts about four to six weeks. Again, these kitties would get significant relief over that period in most cases. Can you give medications? Yes, but I wouldn't recommend it.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.