Does My Cat Have Allergies?

A domestic fluffy cat lies on the sofa and scratches its ear with its paw

Cats are pretty resilient creatures, but sometimes our furry friends can come down with mysterious symptoms that mimic those of human allergies. Unfortunately, it can be pretty hard to pin down what's causing them — and it's certainly no fun watching your kitties when they're in obvious discomfort.

Here, we'll take a look at what causes cat allergies, what allergies in cats look like and how to treat them effectively.

What Causes Cat Allergies?

Just like humans, cats can have allergic reactions to contaminants in their environment, such as dust and mould. Certain kinds of medications may also spark allergic reactions in certain cats.

It's also possible for food-related cat allergies to unexpectedly crop up at any time in a cat's life. Fortunately, a cat's diet usually doesn't spark an allergic reaction. Food intolerances, which are not quite as severe, are often mistaken for allergies. For that reason, it's important to be able to differentiate between food intolerances and food allergies. 

When your cat's allergy is in fact food-related, there's a good chance the problem lies with a small amount of a specific minor ingredient in its food. If you suspect your cat has a food allergy, consult with your vet before you alter your cat's diet. The problem may have nothing to do with their food intake. For example, aggressive grooming could be a sign of a food allergy, but it could also be the result of a flea infection

Unfortunately, even experienced vets have a tough time confidently diagnosing cat allergies. There aren't any specific tests for them, and the triggers and symptoms can vary wildly from cat to cat.

What Are the Symptoms of Cat Allergies?

Cats suffering from contaminants in their environments may find themselves uncontrollably sneezing for days on end. 

Cats that are allergic to specific foods or medications may exhibit symptoms such as inflamed, red skin and aggressive itching. They may scratch or lick themselves so intensely that they rub the fur away on specific patches of their body and even break their skin. This can also lead to hairball issues since in aggressively grooming themselves they're likely to swallow much more fur than usual.

Other symptoms of cat allergies may include vomiting, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues. Ear infections and respiratory problems may crop up as well.

How to Treat Cat Allergies

Always work in conjunction with your vet when trying to determine whether your cat's allergies are food-related. Most likely, your vet will attempt to rule out other possible causes for your cat's condition first, such as environment or medication. Once the more likely possibilities have been exhausted, your vet will probably move to diet trials to try to figure out exactly which foods or ingredients are causing the problem. 

The diet trial process usually starts with an exclusion diet. This cat diet focuses on bland food that provides all the essential nutrients that your cat needs but doesn't include proteins in quantities large enough to potentially cause an allergic reaction. 

The length of the exclusion diet trial varies depending on the symptoms your cat has been exhibiting. For example, a cat suffering from skin issues may need to be on the restricted diet for up to three months or longer. A cat that's been having gastrointestinal issues may bounce back more quickly under this kind of diet.

Observing Your Cat During Exclusion Diets

It's very important to keep in mind that when your cat is on a diet like this, they shouldn't be eating anything else at all. That includes special treats from family members, but it also includes food your cat might be able to get to when you're not around, such as leftovers in your trash or the grass in your backyard. You'll need to keep a closer eye than usual on your cat's activities during this part of the treatment.

If you notice your cat has managed to break the exclusion diet or is refusing to eat the blander food of the diet, be sure to let your vet know so they have all the information they need to continue treatment.

Next Steps After the Exclusion Diet

Once your cat has concluded the trial period your vet determined was best, it's time to talk to your vet about your cat's current symptoms. In the event there's been no change in those symptoms, it's likely the case your cat's diet is not the cause of the problems. Your vet can still help you investigate other possible avenues for treatment. 

If your cat appears to be doing better after the trial period, you have strong evidence that you're close to isolating the problem. Most likely, you'll work with your vet to individually reintroduce proteins to your cat's diet. Eventually, you'll probably hit one that causes the allergic reaction to reoccur, at which point you know exactly what not to feed your cat again. 

Usually, that's a simple process of finding a cat food that avoids the specific ingredient you and your vet identified after the exclusion diet. In some cases, though, your cat's allergy issues may be the result of a less obvious food interaction. That's why it's important to work with your vet throughout the process rather than trying to figure it out yourself.

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