Is your cat sneezing more than usual and you’re not sure why? Have you recently noticed that he is scratching a lot more as if he’s always itchy? While these behaviors may not raise a serious red flag, they are common cat allergy symptoms that could indicate your furry friend is in discomfort.
Most allergies aren’t life-threatening, but as any human allergy sufferer can attest, they can easily ruin an otherwise great day.
Our cats can’t tell us what they are experiencing, so it’s our responsibility to recognize the signs. This guide will discuss the different types of allergies, share 10 of the most common symptoms to watch out for, and look at how you can give your cat some much-needed relief.
Types of Allergies for Cats
There are four main types of allergies that your cat may experience, categorized based on how your cat was exposed to the potential allergen. This includes insects, food, inhalant, and contact. The first step to managing your cat’s allergies is to identify what type of allergy they are experiencing and, as you dig further, exactly what allergen is behind their reaction.
As the most common of the four types of allergies, many cats will experience an allergic reaction to insect bites. Flea allergies are especially prevalent with cats. When the flea bites your cat, its saliva is injected under your cat’s skin carrying foreign proteins and antigens. This triggers an immune response which can quickly progress to intense itching. While less common, there are other insects that can trigger the same type of allergic reaction.
This type of allergy refers to the reaction that occurs when your cat consumes something that he is allergic to. Most cat parents find this to be the easiest to understand of the four as they can directly compare it to the high prevalence of food allergies in people. Food allergies can be triggered by a specific food or even a food additive, however, the most common food allergies in cats are proteins including chicken, turkey, beef, or pork.
Most often associated with sneezing and watering, itchy eyes, inhalant allergies are airborne allergens that your cat may breathe in, irritating their sinuses and the back of their throats, or getting into their eyes. This includes many well-known allergens such as pollen, ragweed, cedar, dust mites, molds, and mildew. In addition to sneezing and eye irritation, it can also trigger skin irritation known as atopic dermatitis.
The least common of the allergy types, contact allergies are a reaction that occurs from an allergen having direct contact with their skin causing a rash, redness, swelling, itching, or irritation. This can include contact with certain plants (such as poison ivy), cleaning products (such as laundry detergents), flea collars, or different brands of shampoo.
What About Seasonal Allergies?
We often hear reference to ‘seasonal allergies’, which describes allergies that occur during a specific time of the year, but they can be further defined by looking at the cause of the allergies at that time. For example, if your cat experiences seasonal allergies each spring due to the increase of pollen, that would be classified as an inhalant. Apart from insects that may be more prevalent at one time or another, all seasonal allergies can be classified as either inhalant or contact.
10 Common Symptoms of Cat Allergies
Just as no two people experience the exact same allergy symptoms, the same is true for our cats. You should be watching for a wide variety of different symptoms that could be present in any combination or level of severity. Cat allergies in one cat may entirely present themselves sneezing and itching while another cat, faced with the same allergen, could display more of a physical skin reaction.
To help you identify a potential problem, here are the most common cat allergy symptoms that you may encounter.
Itchy, Irritated Skin
Itching related to cat allergies can either be localized to a single area of the body or generalized, meaning that your cat is itchy all over. This may be accompanied by a red, irritated rash, small fluid-filled bumps, or other signs of irritation. In the early stages, your cat may not yet be reacting to the irritation, however, a full-body scan (which is one of the elements discussed in the Pet Health 5 Movement) will allow you to identify and address the problem before it gets worse.
Head Rubbing or Shaking
If the irritation is localized to your cat’s head or around his ears, he may be looking for a source of relief. Trying to ease the itching, he may start rubbing his head against objects or the ground. Alternatively, he may shake his head as if trying to free himself from the irritant.
Hair Loss in Patches
When faced with itchy skin, many cats will respond by grooming themselves excessively, trying to remove the irritant. Unfortunately, an allergen isn’t something that can generally be groomed out of their fur that easily. This leads to overgrooming, which, over time, can cause thinning of the fur or even bald patches. This can also lead to the development of hot spots.
If the trigger for your cat’s allergies is something airborne, like dust, ragweed, or pollen, it may be aggravating his sinuses. The cat sneezing is their body’s attempt to get rid of the irritants with a fast movement of air.
Coughing or Wheezing
Another response related to airborne allergies, coughing, and wheezing is usually brought on by those same allergens when they aggravate your cat’s throat. If your cat suffers from asthma, you are more likely to experience your cat coughing intensely or wheezing as a result of shortness of breath.
When the airflow through your cat’s airway is reduced due to congestion or inflammation in the sinuses, it can lead to snoring. It should be noted that this is only one potential cause. If your cat snores all the time, there is likely another cause. If you notice that your cat only snores at one specific time of the year each year, it could be a sign of cat seasonal allergies.
Itchy, Watery, or Runny Eyes
Your cat’s nasal passages aren’t the only thing that can be irritated by airborne allergens. Those same particles can get into your cat’s eyes, leading to the well-known allergy symptom of itchy, watery eyes. You may also notice a lot of discharge both from the excess tears resulting from watery eyes or as a result of conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the thin membrane on the inner surface of your cat’s eyelids.
Swollen or Sensitive Paws
One of the most common signs of contact allergies from grass, trees, weeds, mold, or other naturally occurring allergens is swollen, irritated, or sensitive paws. You may notice your cat obsessively licking or chewing at his paws, trying to relieve the discomfort. Unfortunately, doing so often just leads to more swelling and sensitivity.
Vomiting and/or Diarrhea
Most often associated with food allergies, ingesting an allergen can cause digestive upset. This triggers an immune reaction and inflammation in the digestive tract which disrupts their ability to effectively digest their food. Over time, this can result in bigger complications including weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, or dehydration.
Gas or Bloating
In some cases, a food allergy can trigger an excess of gas being produced and then trapped within the gastrointestinal tract. This can cause significant bloating, pain, discomfort, or frequent releases of this additional gas.
Treatment for Allergies in Cats
As a cat parent, when you notice cat allergy symptoms, you want to provide instant relief for your ailing cat. Unfortunately, allergies aren’t that easily addressed. Just like with people, there are no simple medications that will magically make your cat’s allergies disappear (although we all wish that there was). However, there are steps that you can take to help manage your pet’s allergies and provide him with a better quality of life.
Focus on Treating the Cause, Not Just the Symptoms
One mistake that many cat parents make is to put all their effort into treating the symptoms that their cat is experiencing while overlooking the root cause of the problem. While you do want to give your cat relief as quickly as possible, you should also focus on treating the cause. This may be easy to identify, or it may take extensive allergy testing. If you’re unsure, contact your veterinarian and make an appointment to discuss possible next steps including medications for short-term relief (if available) and allergy testing.
A great example of this is the presence of a flea allergy. If you have identified that your cat does have fleas resulting in itchy, irritated skin and hair loss at the base of their tail, you will need to consider short-term and long-term solutions. Short term, there are corticosteroids that can help to relieve the itching and discomfort. Long-term, you need to address the flea infestation both on your cat and in your home, removing them entirely to put an end to the cycle.
The best thing that you can do for your cat is to remove exposure to his allergy trigger entirely, but this may not be easy to do. For example, if your cat is experiencing a contact allergy from the chemicals in a specific laundry detergent, discontinue use of that product in your home and switch to something that he can be exposed to safely.
If your cat’s allergies are something environmental, like pollen, you won’t be able to eliminate the allergen from your life, but you can reduce exposure. Limit or avoid time spent outside with your cat when the allergen is at its highest state. Close windows to prevent the allergen from coming into your home. Depending on the severity of your cat’s allergies, you may also want to keep shoes outside to avoid tracking the allergen indoors. Air purifiers can help to remove any particles that may be floating in the air in your home.
Adjust Your Cat’s Diet
For those that are trying to deal with food allergies, you will need to go straight to the source – what is your cat eating? While you can do allergy testing to help determine the problem, another approach that is commonly used for food allergies is an elimination diet. This means switching your cat to a food that has new ingredients they haven’t previously been eating, like a fish-based diet in place of their usual chicken-based food. You will need to stick exclusively to this diet for 8 to 12 weeks to see if the allergies clear up. Don’t forget their treats, as they could also contain the trigger. If you’re feeding a fish-based diet, stick to fish-based treats (which are also high in Omega-3s).
If this works and the allergies clear up entirely, then you may choose to experiment by adding a small amount of the ingredient in question and see if the allergies return. To get a clear read on the situation, only ever add 1 ingredient at a time, and be sure to wait out the results just as you did with the original change.
Consider Steroid or Prescription Treatment
Cats that are suffering from allergies as a result of naturally occurring allergens like dust and pollen may not be able to find relief simply by cleaning your home and reducing time outside. In these situations, it is recommended that you speak with your veterinarian about the possibility of introducing a steroid treatment or prescription allergy medication. This may include medicated shampoos, spot treatments, sprays, antihistamines, allergy shots, or immunosuppressive drug therapy. Your veterinarian will be able to put together a plan of attack based on the severity of your cat’s allergies and the symptoms that they are experiencing.
While cat allergies can be frustrating to address, the good news is that there ARE options to help your kitty live a healthy life. Managing your cat’s allergies will be a process, but one that will end happily for everyone involved if you’re committed to working through it. It may not be the quick fix that we would like for our furry best friends, but they will be forever grateful for your love and care when they start to experience the relief from your efforts.
Catching your cat’s allergies early will give you the best chances of avoiding any discomfort or complications. Take some time regularly to do a full scan of your cat’s body, check for anything out of the ordinary, and always pay attention to any changes in behavior.
Have you encountered cat allergies in your time as a cat parent? If so, what were the first symptoms that you noticed?
Performing a body scan is one of the five vital stats that we encourage you to monitor when working towards prioritizing the health of your cat. Not only will this help you recognize cat allergy symptoms, but they will help you catch them before they are allowed to progress too far.
Join us in our Pet Health 5 Movement and together we can start tracking our pet’s health. It’s super easy! We’ll send you a reminder on the 5th of each month with a checklist of what to do and how to do it. All you need to do is take the time to check your cat’s health stats and log them.
Cat health is an important aspect of helping our cats live long and happy lives. You can start today by doing a complete body scan on your cat and signing up for Pet Health 5.
About the Author: Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.