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Allergen Alert: Common Culprits That Can Make Your Kitty Miserable

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Your cat can be afflicted with allergies, just like any human member of the family. When cats suffer from allergies, they can experience severe itchiness to the point of scratching open wounds into themselves. Other symptoms of allergies may include gastrointestinal upset, sneezing, or hives. The symptoms that plague your cat depend on which allergen your cat is reacting to, and the severity of the symptoms can vary from persistent annoyance for your cat to a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. Knowing the common allergens that trigger reactions in cats will help you to reduce your cat's risk and to address a reaction more quickly if you recognize one kicking in.


Many cats are highly sensitive to the saliva of fleas, and all it takes one bite from a single flea to set off an allergic reaction called flea allergy dermatitis. If your cat suffers from flea allergy dermatitis, she will lick, chew, and scratch away at herself until the coat is noticeably thinning and small lesions form on the skin. Luckily, the cure for flea allergy dermatitis is simple. Your veterinarian will provide relief for your cat in the following two steps:

  • He or she will likely administer an injection of cortisone to quell the immediate itchiness and to keep your cat itch-free for a few weeks while her skin and coat have the chance to heal.
  • A flea preventative product will be prescribed to prevent another flea from setting off another reaction in the future.

Observe your cat closely after applying the flea control product. Medications can also trigger allergic reactions in cats.


The drugs that are used for treating cats are generally safe for use in feline patients. Your veterinarian would not recommend administering them if they were not. In accordance with the American Veterinary Medical Association, veterinarians weigh the benefits against the risks when determining whether or not to administer a drug to a patient. Whether the medication in question is an oral preparation, an injection, or a topical application, however, there is the potential that a cat may be sensitive to the drug itself or to another ingredient used in its formulation. The symptoms of a drug reaction vary, and some allergic reactions to drugs can be deadly. Whenever your veterinarian administers or prescribes a drug, ask him or her what signs you should watch for to catch an allergic reaction. If you observe anything unusual in your cat's activity or behavior after a drug administration, contact your veterinarian immediately.


According to the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, food ranks as the third most common allergen to affect cats. The trigger is usually one of the commonly used protein sources in commercial cat food, but a carbohydrate source can also cause trouble. The signs of a food allergy are typically itchiness and skin irritation, but some cats experience diarrhea or vomiting. Your veterinarian can perform a feeding trial to determine if your cat's symptoms are caused by a food allergy by recommending a prescription diet. Novel protein diets contain limited ingredients, and they use protein and carbohydrate sources that are not typically used in most commercial cat food products. Examples of novel proteins include rabbit, duck, kangaroo, and venison. Instead of the usual carbohydrates found in commercial foods, a prescription diet may contain potatoes or peas as the carbohydrate ingredient.

Environmental Allergens

Household allergens can trigger two types of reactions, which are known as contact allergies and inhalant allergies. Your cat can develop a contact allergy if her skin comes in direct contact with an allergen to which she is sensitive, such as wool fibers in the weave of her bedding or a shampoo. Your cat will experience itchiness and skin irritation on the area of skin that came in contact with the offending substance.

Inhalant allergies are most commonly in response to inhaled allergens, but the offending particles can also trigger a reaction if they can be absorbed through your cat's skin. Examples of inhalant allergies include the following:

  • Dust mites
  • Pollens from grasses, weeds, and trees
  • Mold spores
  • Mildew
  • Perfumed products, such as air freshening sprays, dryer sheets, scented cat litters, carpet cleaning powers, and household cleaning products

Signs of inhalant allergies are itchiness, evidenced by your cat's persistent licking, chewing, and scratching at her skin. Some cats may also sneeze. Use of air filters in your home in addition to cleaning your home diligently, opting for unscented products, and keeping windows closed during pollen season can reduce your cat's exposure to inhalant allergies. If your cat suffers from allergies on a seasonal basis, such as when pollen is abundant in the air and can be brought indoors on your clothing, your veterinarian can alleviate your cat's symptoms with cortisone or antihistamine drug therapy.

If your cat continues to tear her skin and coat apart even after the team efforts of you and your veterinarian to relieve her misery, you may be referred to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist. This specialist can conduct allergy tests in an attempt to isolate the specific allergen that triggers your cat so that a more effective treatment can be prescribed.