Cat Allergies: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Scottish fold cat with eyes closed before a sneeze.
Scottish Fold Cat With Eyes Closed Before A Sneeze.

People can be allergic to many things including cats but cats can also have allergies of their own. Some symptoms of allergies in cats can be very severe, cause discomfort, and even be fatal. Knowing what allergies cats can have, how to find out if your cat has them, and what you can do about them can help prevent problems.

What Are Allergies in Cats?

The immune system of a cat reacts in an atypical way if it is exposed to something it is allergic to by producing antibodies, even if the substance is not harmful. Antibodies are meant to tell the body that there is something attacking it and are usually used to fight off things like infections. If antibodies are produced in response to something that is not harmful, they can lead to unwanted and unexpected symptoms in a cat. Therefore, this response and the symptoms that are exhibited are referred to as allergies.

Depending on what type of allergies a cat has, symptoms can vary from irritating to life-threatening.

short-coated orange and white kitten
short-coated orange and white kitten

Signs of Allergies in Cats

  • Itching
  • Hairloss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Skin redness or irritation
  • Swelling
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting or gagging
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Chewing at paws or tail

Cats with allergies will show different symptoms but symptoms that affect breathing are the most serious. Due to the body's response to an allergen, a cat may have difficulty breathing due to swelling of the face, throat, or nose. This swelling can be serious and cause coughing, especially if a cat already has asthma, gagging, wheezing, and even collapse and ultimately death if not quickly addressed. Oxygen is necessary for life so if a cat cannot breathe due to allergies then it is a life-threatening situation.

In addition to breathing issues, a cat may have runny eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing if it is exposed to something it is allergic to. Allergens can be irritating to the mucous membranes and cause these symptoms.

Itching, hair loss, redness and irritation of the skin, and chewing at the paws or tail may all also be seen in a cat with allergies. These symptoms are very common in cats with flea, food, and other environmental allergies. The allergens cause the body to be irritated and inflamed which causes a cat to itch and chew at itself in an attempt to relieve the discomfort. Hair loss and sometimes even open wounds result.

orange tabby cat with black background
orange tabby cat with black background

Finally, sometimes the gastrointestinal tract is affected by inflammation and irritation due to allergies. If this happens, diarrhea and vomiting is seen in about 10 percent of cats with a food allergy.

Causes of Allergies in Cats

There are many things that cats can be allergic to and most are readily found in and around our homes. In some situations, this can make it difficult to eliminate the cause of a cat's allergies.

  • Pollens: Tree, dust, grass, weed, mold, and mildew pollens can all cause allergies in cats. These environmental allergens are difficult to control.
  • Food: Food allergies are the third most common type of allergies in cats. There are many types of food that a cat can be allergic to but animal proteins such as chicken, beef, dairy, fish, and eggs are the most common culprits.
  • Fleas: The most common cause of allergy in cats, flea bites cause cats to have irritating allergic reactions including hair loss, redness, and itching.
  • Medications: Cats can be allergic to flea medication, shampoos, and other medications.
  • Cleaning products: Detergents, floor cleaners, and disinfecting sprays can all cause allergies in cats.
  • Perfume: Strong perfumes and colognes can be irritating in their own right but some cats actually have allergies to them. Inhaled allergens are common causes of allergies in cats.
  • Smoke: Just like other inhalants, some cats are allergic to cigarette and other types of smoke.
  • Various surfaces: Fabrics, rubbers, and plastics are all types of surfaces that a cat can be allergic to. Some beds, food dishes, and floor mats may be problems for cats that have allergies to these specific surfaces.
brown tabby cat on gray concrete floor
brown tabby cat on gray concrete floor
gray cat in close-up photo
gray cat in close-up photo

Diagnosing Allergies in Cats

It can be difficult to discover what a cat is allergic to. Elimination diets and exclusion trials with different cleaning products, food dishes, beds, and medications may be necessary to discover what causes an allergic reaction if it isn't obvious. Some blood and skin tests are available for detecting some kinds of allergens.

Treatment

Depending on what type of allergy your cat has, the treatment will vary. Eliminating the allergen from your cat's environment is ideal for treating an allergy but is of course not always possible. Occasionally long term medications or allergy therapies may be indicated for your cat depending on the severity of symptoms and the cause of the allergy.

How to Prevent Allergies in Cats

There is no way to prevent a cat from developing allergies but you can often help to limit its exposure to allergens. Keeping a clean home, using dust-free and unscented cat litter, not using excessive perfumes or deodorizers, not smoking in the house, using regular flea preventatives, and using metal or ceramic food and water dishes can help prevent your cat from having an allergic reaction.