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Cat Skin Allergies

Much like their canine counterparts, cats can suffer from itchy, painful skin conditions caused by allergies. In this blog post, our veterinarians in Lincoln explain some causes and symptoms of skin allergies in cats and how to treat them.

Types of Allergies in Cats

If your cat is experiencing an allergy, it means its immune system is overreacting or hypersensitive to a specific substance. The substance that triggers an allergic reaction is known as an allergen. Some typical allergens that can cause allergic reactions in humans include food, pollen, dander, and mold.

There are usually three general types of symptoms that can occur due to an allergic reaction to a substance:

  • Skin -  Itching of the skin, either in a specific spot or more generalized all over your cat's body.
  • Respiratory - Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and other respiratory issues, including discharge from the nose or eyes.
  • Gastrointestinal - The third manifestation involves the digestive system and can result in vomiting, flatulence, and/or diarrhea.

Different types of allergens cause these different reactions: parasites that live in or on the cat's body, an allergen that causes a reaction upon contact, an allergen that is ingested, and allergens that are inhaled.

Causes of Skin Allergies in Cats & How They Are Treated

When it comes to skin allergies, the allergen causing the condition will either be parasites, food allergies, or environmental allergies.

Contact Allergies

Although not very frequent, some cats may develop contact allergies that can cause irritated skin patches wherever the allergen has touched the cat's body. Common allergens that can trigger these allergies include flea collars, shampoos, and materials used in bedding. While it may be challenging to identify the precise cause of the allergy, it is worth making an effort since removing or avoiding the allergen can quickly and easily resolve your cat's symptoms.


It is a common misconception that all cats react aggressively to flea bites. In reality, flea bites are usually just a minor irritation for most cats. However, for some cats who are allergic to the proteins in flea saliva, even a single flea bite can result in a severe allergic reaction, causing intense itching and leading to relentless scratching and hair loss. This can also result in open sores, skin rash or scabs on the skin, particularly around the base of the tail, which can lead to secondary bacterial skin infections.

To treat this allergy, it is important to prevent fleas from coming into contact with your beloved pet. If your pet already has fleas, consult with your veterinarian about various flea control products and how to get rid of fleas. Your vet can prescribe corticosteroids (cortisone or steroids) to help block the allergic reaction and provide immediate relief from itchiness. Antibiotics may also be necessary if your cat has developed a secondary skin infection due to excessive scratching.

Food Allergies in Cats

Food allergies in cats are the result of an immune reaction to an ingredient or an additive present in their food. Chicken, turkey, and beef are the most common food allergens for cats. Some vegetable proteins, such as corn and wheat, found in commercially produced cat foods may also be problematic for some cats. Food additives and preservatives can also cause an allergic response in other cats. Symptoms of food allergies in cats include itchy skin, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress.

If you suspect your cat has a food allergy, a veterinarian may prescribe an elimination or hypoallergenic diet. These diets require feeding your cat a diet consisting only of ingredients they have never previously eaten, such as rabbit or venison, and eliminating their regular food. To be effective, these diets must be strictly adhered to. This means no cat treats (unless approved as part of the diet) and no sneaking any table scraps. Elimination diets must be adhered to for between 9-12 weeks to give your cat's body time to eliminate all traces of the problematic ingredient and start the recovery process.

Inhalant & Atopy Allergies

Inhalant and atopic allergies refer to allergies caused by substances present in the environment, such as pollen, ragweed, dust mites, mold, and cigarette smoke. In cats, these allergens can lead to severe itching throughout their body. It is common for cats to suffer from allergies to multiple substances, making it challenging to identify the exact cause. While some allergies are seasonal, similar to hay fever in humans, others persist throughout the year.

The treatment for these allergies primarily depends on the severity of the allergy and whether it's seasonal or not. A hypoallergenic diet can help alleviate the symptoms, and treatments may include:

  • Corticosteroids (prednisone)
  • Sprays and shampoos to improve the health of the skin
  • Antihistamines
  • Essential fatty acids/fish oils
  • Immunosuppressive drug therapy
  • Antigen injections/allergy shots

Ongoing Treatment for Cats with Skin Allergies

It's important to understand that the treatments used for skin allergies in cats may take some time to show results and are not suitable for sudden flare-ups. Your dermatologist veterinarian in Lincoln will give you treatments for both acute symptoms and the long-term management of the condition.

Although treatment can help to manage and alleviate your cat's symptoms, the only way to cure the problem is to prevent your cat from coming in contact with the allergen. This means that while your cat may remain symptom-free for long periods, symptoms may reoccur periodically. Your veterinarian will be able to assist you and your cat in dealing with allergic reactions whenever they occur.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat is suffering from an uncomfortable skin problem, contact our Lincoln vets today to schedule an examination.

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Critter Creek Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of pets in Lincoln and the Greater Sacramento Area. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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