Allergies can make your cat itchy, painful, and miserable. And that makes a loving cat owner miserable, too. Here is what I told a reader struggling with severe allergies in her cat.
Q: My cat is allergic to everything: fleas, food, pollen, etc. She has scratched and bitten all the fur off her belly and chews at her legs. How can we manage her condition and help her stay comfortable?
A: That’s a triple-whammy! We often see flea-bite allergies in cats, and environmental allergies aren’t unusual either. Food allergies are less common, but they definitely occur. Signs for all three can be similar: scratching, biting, rubbing and grooming excessively. Other signs include sneezing, watery eyes and ear infections. All of those things add up to one seriously uncomfortable cat!
Treatment is individualized to each cat because they all have different signs. Beyond corticosteroids, your veterinarian may prescribe antihistamines, cyclosporine and allergy shots. All of these may play a role in helping to reduce your cat’s intense itching.
Used with antihistamines, essential fatty acid supplements may contribute to itch relief, too, according to some veterinary dermatologists. In dogs, applying EFAs topically has been found to help improve what’s known as barrier function — the skin’s ability to repel pathogens that can aggravate atopic dermatitis. We don’t know if that works in cats, but it’s something to ask your veterinarian about.
It can be challenging and time-consuming to determine exactly what your cat is allergic to so you can get her on a program to keep symptoms under control. It may be necessary to restrict her diet — called an elimination diet — and then gradually add back specific ingredients to figure out which ones are setting off her allergies. Be prepared for the process to take as long as several months. If possible, enlist the services of a board-certified veterinary dermatologist who can perform allergy testing and recommend other environmental or dietary changes, as well as appropriate medication. Your veterinarian may be able to refer you to someone locally, or you can find one through the American College of Veterinary Dermatology.
Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.