Allergies are a common problem not only in humans, but also in dogs and cats. It is a disease of the immune system that most often manifests itself in skin problems in cats. The animal begins to scratch and lick itself intensively and may also lose hair. Where does an allergy come from? What could be its causes? How to treat it?
Allergy – a disorder of the immune system
What is an allergy? This is one of the most common ailments of the immune system, which, for unexplained reasons, begins to react aggressively towards substances and chemical compounds it encounters (which are not germs) – thus becoming allergens. Almost anything can be an allergen – food, pollen, dust, metals or detergents. The body recognizes them as an enemy and causes inflammation, which may be visible as redness and itching of the skin, and also cause symptoms in the respiratory or digestive system. Allergy in cats is a lifelong disease, you can try to cure it through desensitization, but in the vast majority of cases it involves lifelong control of emerging unpleasant symptoms. It is worth knowing that food intolerance, which is a non-immune food hypersensitivity, is completely different. It is attended by, among others: enzymatic or metabolic factors, but not the immune system.
Cat allergy – symptoms
How does cat allergy manifest itself? It most often causes dermatological problems – itching and redness of the skin. Gastrointestinal disorders, as well as cough and shortness of breath may also occur. Cats with allergies scratch and lick themselves intensively, which leads to self-injury and hair loss. Skin lesions most often occur in the head, nape and neck area, less frequently on the abdomen, inner thighs and torso. They may also be visible as inflammation of the interdigital spaces and eosinophilic granuloma syndrome (including lip ulcers). However, in order to definitively diagnose an allergy, the veterinarian must rule out other skin diseases whose symptoms may look very similar.
What causes allergies in cats?
Cats may suffer from food allergy, contact allergy, inhalation allergy and insect bite allergy. It is not easy to identify what makes a given cat allergic. The basis is careful observation of the pet by the guardian – he should consider when the first symptoms appeared and whether he is able to determine what causes the cat’s allergy. Are the symptoms related to any events, changes in food, eating treats, or maybe a specific season? After ruling out other dermatological diseases and reactions to flea bites, the next step is often a diagnostic elimination diet for the cat. At the same time, you can try to identify environmental allergens (house dust, warehouse and pantry mites, pollen, molds and detergents).
You will learn more in the article “Elimination diet for dogs and cats”.
Treatment of allergies in cats
In the treatment of allergies in cats, the most important thing is to identify and eliminate the allergens that sensitize your pet – either in the diet or in the living environment. In the case of food allergy, an appropriate diet is adapted. If your cat suffers from a dust allergy, removing carpets and curtains, increasing the frequency of vacuuming and running an air purifier may help. If pollen is an allergen, it is a good idea to limit airing the house and letting your cat outside when certain plants are pollinating. The veterinarian can administer medications that have symptomatic effects and reduce inflammation in the body.
Anti-inflammatory therapy includes corticosteroids, cyclosporine, chlorpheniramine and oclacitinib. Additionally, it is recommended to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and additionally help maintain the appropriate lipid barrier of the skin. In addition, shampoo therapy can also be used (although this is usually more difficult in cats than in dogs). If the skin lesions are infected with bacteria, the use of antibiotics may be necessary. If asthma symptoms appear, you will need, among others: inhaled bronchodilators. Each case is different and the veterinarian decides which treatment will be most beneficial for a specific patient based on symptoms, interview and clinical examination.
Nutrition for an allergic cat
If you suspect a food allergy, you should first of all introduce a restrictive diet. What does an elimination diet look like for a cat? It should last at least 8 weeks, and often up to 12 weeks. The cat is then given mono-protein meals, i.e. based on one type of meat, which should also provide the cat with a completely new source of protein, e.g. from duck, deer or kangaroo. However, it should be borne in mind that the allergenic factor may not be the protein in the food but also storage mites, which may contaminate commercial dry food with their presence. If the allergen is dust mites, any dry food may cause an allergy, regardless of its composition. Therefore, dry food will never be a good solution, especially for cats with allergies.
You must also remember that if you decide to put your cat on an elimination diet, it cannot be given any other food. Each time you feed your dog from the table and give him additional treats containing different proteins, the diet becomes ineffective and you have to start it over again. Feeding an allergic cat is not an easy matter because many of them are very picky and may refuse to eat new food.
In my experience, the BARF diet works best for allergy-prone cats, because there we have the greatest control over the ingredients.