Is your cat’s itchy skin a sign of allergies?

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Is your cat’s itchy skin a sign of allergies? - An orange cat itching at their ear

Allergies are common in cats but can be difficult to distinguish from other conditions with similar symptoms. If you believe your cat has allergies, read on to learn:

  • What are allergies?
  • How do I know if my cat has allergies?
  • What is causing my cat’s allergies?
  • How will my cat’s allergies be diagnosed and treated?
  • Can feline allergies be prevented?

Allergies can be uncomfortable for cats as they experience itching, skin issues, and digestive problems. It’s important for cat owners to address these symptoms with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and help their cat get relief.

What are feline allergies?

Allergies occur when a cat’s immune system responds inappropriately to something harmless. Allergies are common, and cats can have food or environmental allergies that result in uncomfortable symptoms.

What are common allergy symptoms in cats?

A cat’s allergic response can result in a variety of symptoms. Some cats may only show one main symptom, while others can have several.

Itchy, irritated skin

Itchy skin is the most common symptom of allergies in cats and excessive scratching often leads to additional problems such as open sores and hot spots. Other skin symptoms resulting from allergies in cats include:

The head, face, and neck are commonly affected with airborne and food allergies, although itching can occur anywhere on the body. Itching from contact dermatitis often affects the area with heavy contact with the allergen, such as near the base of the tail with flea allergy dermatitis.

Digestive problems

Cats with food allergies often have digestive issues. Digestive symptoms of a food ingredient allergy may include:

Vomiting or diarrhea as a result of a food allergy usually continues as long as the cat is eating something they’re allergic to. It’s always best to seek veterinary advice if a cat is vomiting or having diarrhea frequently or for an extended period of time, even if they seem to be healthy otherwise.

Other signs of allergies

While itchiness is the most common symptom, cats can also experience other allergy symptoms, including:

Unlike in people, respiratory symptoms are uncommon in cats with allergies. If a cat is exhibiting respiratory symptoms, it is likely due to another cause.

What is my cat allergic to?

Cats can react to food or environmental allergens that they touch, inhale, or ingest. Common allergens in cats include:

  • Flea saliva
  • Grass
  • Dust mites
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Animal proteins in food such as beef, chicken, or fish

“It can be difficult to pinpoint the allergens affecting your cat. Fortunately, that’s usually not necessary for developing an effective treatment plan,” explains Jo Myers, a veterinarian at Vetster. “Most cats respond to common treatment strategies.”

How do veterinarians diagnose and treat cat allergies?

Diagnosing allergies in cats can be difficult as there are many other potential causes of itching and other allergy symptoms. Diagnostic testing helps eliminate other causes of these symptoms. Specific allergy tests don't determine if a cat is allergic or not, but can be used to find the problematic allergens.

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Fortunately, the majority of cats respond well to routine allergy medication and treatment, even if the type of allergy is unknown. Common treatments for allergies in cats include:

  • Anti-inflammatories and itch medications
  • Special diets
  • Avoiding the allergen if known
  • Flea-control products

Additional treatments may be needed if secondary conditions such as skin or ear infections have developed, often from excessive scratching. Cats with seasonal allergies may require allergy medication or treatment for only part of the year. It’s important for pet owners to understand that allergies in cats cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be managed with long-term treatment. Any time an allergic cat is exposed to whatever they’re allergic to, symptoms are expected to recur if allergies are not well controlled, either through medications or dietary changes, or both.

Can I prevent my cat’s allergies?

It’s impossible to know if a cat will have allergies or what they will be allergic to. Heredity may play a small role, but the cause of allergies is complex and unique to each individual. If your cat has been diagnosed with allergies, you might be able to reduce the severity of the symptoms with:

  • Avoidance of the allergen, if one is identified
  • Flea prevention
  • Avoiding specific ingredients in food
  • Keeping the home clean and using an air filter

A cat with a flea allergy requires year-round flea prevention, even in the winter and/or they reside indoors. Air filters and frequent cleaning can help reduce airborne allergens such as pollen and dust. Allergy symptoms vary according to the amount of the allergen the cat is exposed to, so any reduction in exposure can help.

How do I know if my cat has allergies?

The most common symptoms of allergies in cats are itchiness and skin irritation. Vomiting and diarrhea often occur with food allergies. Always consult with a veterinarian to rule out other causes of these symptoms so you can get reliable, safe, and effective treatment recommendations. It’s important to seek advice rather than assuming a cat has allergies, as there are many conditions and illnesses that have similar symptoms. If you believe your cat may have allergies, you can consult an online vet to receive advice at your convenience from the comfort of home.

FAQ - Does your cat have itchy skin? It could be allergies.

How can you tell if your cat has allergies?

The most common symptoms of allergies are excessive itching, skin irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea. These stomach and skin symptoms are also common in many other diseases and conditions, so diagnostic testing to rule these other causes out is often needed for an allergy diagnosis. Other human allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and a runny nose, are rare in cats and are usually caused by something else.

How do indoor cats get allergies?

Cats can be allergic to common indoor allergens such as mold and dust. These allergens are present even if you’re fastidious about keeping your house clean. Airborne allergens such as pollen can blow in through open windows or be carried in on clothing or other pets. Likewise, indoor cats can still be exposed to flea bites if another pet has brought them indoors.

What are common allergies for cats?

Cats are commonly allergic to flea saliva, mold, pollen, dust, grass, and food ingredients such as chicken or beef. These can be year-round or seasonal allergies, even if a cat lives indoors.

Is my cat having an allergic reaction?

Common signs of allergies in cats include itchiness, skin irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea. This is different from severe allergic reactions which appear suddenly and involve hives, facial swelling, difficulty breathing, and severe vomiting or diarrhea. These types of reactions are much different and far less common than food or environmental allergies.