Seasonal allergies are often an annoying aspect of the changing seasons for cats as well as cat owners, causing symptoms like itching, sneezing, and watery eyes. However, the treatment for seasonal allergies in cats is not as simple as visiting a local pharmacy for relief. Read on to find the answers to questions such as:
There are numerous feline health conditions that cause symptoms similar to allergies, so it is important to visit a veterinarian to receive a proper diagnosis. Tailored symptom management with a vet helps you care for your cat when seasonal spring allergies set in.
Allergies are caused when the immune system overreacts to a harmless substance (referred to as an allergen), causing symptoms in humans such as itchiness, sneezing, and watery eyes. The process is similar in cats, but the primary reaction in cats tends to be skin symptoms. Allergens can cause a reaction when they’re inhaled, touched, or ingested. Some of the most common allergens in cats are flea saliva, pollen, and specific foods.
Seasonal allergies have symptoms that wax and wane as the seasons change. In contrast, nonseasonal allergies occur year-round. Just like their owners, cats can have allergies that appear in the spring months when fresh pollen is abundant and there is more exposure to fleas outdoors.
Common seasonal allergens for cats include:
Warmer months bring increased exposure to environmental allergens, such as pollen and fleas, while exposure to dust mites and mold spores may increase in the winter months as we stay indoors with the windows closed. Cats can have multiple seasonal allergies, causing year-round symptoms if they are allergic to multiple allergens.
While people and cats can be allergic to similar allergens, cats experience different allergy symptoms. The most common allergy symptom in cats is itchiness. An itchy cat may groom more, bite at their skin, or frequently rub against objects and furniture. At first, their skin appears normal and the itchiness can be overlooked. However, as atopic or contact dermatitis from allergies progresses over time, loss of hair can occur due to excessive shedding from scratching, and the skin may become more red and irritated. Scratching and biting at the skin can also cause secondary skin infections and hot spots. Some cats develop severe skin lesions in response to exposure to allergens.
While itchiness is the most common symptom, it is not the only one. Other symptoms of allergies in cats include:
If your cat has a sudden allergic reaction with symptoms such as severe facial swelling, vomiting, and diarrhea, visit a veterinarian immediately to rule out anaphylaxis as this is not the same as seasonal allergies.
If a cat’s only symptom is itchy skin, it is important to rule out other conditions before assuming it is due to allergies. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to diagnose the exact allergen that is causing allergy symptoms in cats. Tests to rule out other conditions, such as flea infestation, ringworm, or ear mites, can help provide an allergy diagnosis. “Allergies are often a diagnosis by exclusion,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “Once other conditions are ruled out, it’s common to start an allergy treatment to see if that provides relief.” Once a diagnosis of allergies is confirmed, allergy testing helps identify the specific allergens that are causing the problem.
Treatment for feline allergies is multifactorial and involves management of symptoms and avoidance of the allergen, if possible. Seasonal allergies cannot be cured. A combination of treatment strategies is usually necessary, including:
If a cat’s allergy symptoms are particularly difficult to manage, a referral to a veterinary dermatologist may be beneficial. Seasonal allergies require long-term management by a veterinarian.
Before treating a cat for allergies, it’s important for a veterinarian to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms. Don’t simply assume your cat has allergies because they are itchy or sneezing. The best way to treat a cat’s allergy symptoms naturally is through allergen avoidance or removal. If a cat is allergic to pollen, keeping them indoors with an air conditioner or air filter running will help remove the allergens from the air. Wiping or bathing pollens off of the fur will prevent a cat from ingesting them while grooming. Essential fatty acid supplements that are appropriately formulated may provide some benefit for skin irritation and itching when used long-term but are not useful during an acute allergy flare-up.
Over-the-counter supplements and allergy treatments labeled as “natural” are not regulated and not supported by evidence showing they work. This is especially true for flea control. Antihistamines meant for humans show little efficacy in cats and may contain toxic ingredients. They are not sufficient for allergy management in cats. Following a veterinarian’s advice is the best way to treat seasonal allergies in cats.
Most feline seasonal allergies are caused by airborne pollen or fleas. Both can easily enter a home or outdoor patio, even with screened windows. Pollen and fleas can also enter the home when they are carried in by owners or other pets that venture outside. Dust mites and household molds can change with the seasons without proper management. Indoor cats can have seasonal allergy flare-ups from allergens outdoors or indoors, and their diagnosis and treatment are the same as in outdoor cats.
If you suspect your cat has allergies, visit a veterinarian to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms. Work with a veterinarian to create a treatment plan to manage symptoms and prevent secondary infections. Always keep your vet informed of your cat’s progress with treatment. It may take some trial and error before finding a treatment that works best for your cat. Finally, keep an eye on your cat’s behavior and watch for signs of symptoms, such as overgrooming or biting at the skin. If you are concerned about seasonal allergies in your cat, you can make a virtual vet appointment to discuss your cat’s symptoms with a veterinarian.
Symptom management and allergen avoidance are essential for treating a cat with allergies. A cat can live a healthy and happy life with long-term symptom management directed by a veterinarian. If a cat’s allergy symptoms are particularly difficult to manage, visits with a veterinary dermatologist may be needed.
Antihistamines and allergy medications that are formulated for people are not recommended for use in cats. Human allergy medications have not been shown to be effective in cats and may contain toxic ingredients. If your cat has allergies that have been diagnosed by a veterinarian, the use of feline-approved medications and treatments from a vet is the best way to manage symptoms.
It is unknown why some cats develop allergies. The most common seasonal allergies in cats are flea saliva, pollen, dust mites, and mold spores. Dust mites and mold spores thrive indoors, especially in the winter months. Airborne pollen and fleas can travel indoors through open windows, through screened porches or catios, or on people or other pets that go outdoors.
The most common seasonal allergies in cats are flea saliva, pollen, dust mites, and mold spores. Cats can also have food allergies, though these are not considered seasonal as the symptoms do not wax and wane throughout the year.
During the holidays we spend time with family, friends, and our pets. As an attentive pet parent, enjoying the holidays with your family pets might include managing your pet’s health and medications, caring for your senior pets, and being prepared for all the potential pet emergencies that can happen during the holiday festivities...
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