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Identifying & Treating Cat Skin Allergies
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Humans aren’t the only species to experience allergies. Like us, cats can experience allergies due to environmental factors or food sensitivities. In some cases, these allergies will affect your cat’s skin, resulting in itchiness, redness, swelling, scabs, and discomfort for your cat.
Every pet owner wants their cat to lead a comfortable life, free from pain and irritation. Thus, if your cat has been experiencing skin irritation, seeking out treatment with a veterinarian to determine if your cat has skin allergies is likely a top priority. Cat skin allergy treatment doesn’t just ease your cat’s discomfort—it also reduces the risk of skin allergies turning into something more serious or becoming infected.
Treating cat skin allergies starts with identifying the problem. In this article, we’ll share some of the most common symptoms of cat skin allergies, discuss potential causes, and explore the different treatment options available. Read from start to finish for an in-depth explanation of cat skin allergies or use the links below to navigate to any section in the article.
Cat skin allergies can present themselves in a number of different ways. From excessive itching to hair loss, there are a variety of symptoms to watch out for. Oftentimes, cats experiencing skin allergies will present more than one symptom at a time, as certain symptoms tend to contribute to others.
It’s important to know the symptoms of cat skin allergies so that you can recognize the signs, act quickly, and get your cat the treatment they need. However, the symptoms your cat experiences will also depend on whether your cat’s reacting to a food allergy, atopic dermatitis, or a flea allergy or other topical parasites. Below, we’ve included some of the most common symptoms related to each condition.
Symptoms of atopic dermatitis can include¹:
- Excessive scratching or licking
- Sores, scabs, and redness
- Scaling or crust
- Hair loss
- Ear infections
- Rhinitis (respiratory infection)
Symptoms of food allergies can include¹:
- Excessive itching and licking with little seasonal variation
- Sores and crusty bumps
- Hair loss
- Reddened, swollen skin
- Ear infections
Symptoms of flea /parasitic allergies can include:
- Excessive itching and licking
- Sores, crusts, bumps
- Hair loss , not only limited to the tail base
- Swollen lower lip
Keep in mind that the symptoms of cat skin allergies aren’t always easy to spot. Redness, inflammation, scabs, scaling, and so on can hide underneath your cat’s fur until they become more visible—and, often, more serious—problems. If you notice excessive scratching, itching, or licking, or suspect your cat may have skin allergies for some other reason, make sure to closely inspect their skin or take them to a qualified vet. Documenting your cat’s symptoms with photos and video recordings can be a very useful tool during a consultation with your remote vet via Dutch.com.
In general, cat skin allergies stem from three conditions. The first condition that may cause skin allergies in your cat is atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis can be sparked by airborne allergens that some cats are particularly sensitive to. In addition to atopic dermatitis, food sensitivities can also be responsible for sparking skin allergies in cats. Lastly and most importantly fleas are a year round problem for all species, even the indoor cat. In this section, we’ll dive into more detail about what each condition entails and how they differ from one another.
Let’s start by taking a look at atopic dermatitis. Feline atopic dermatitis is a condition most often marked by redness, extreme itchiness, and swelling of a cat’s skin. Rhinitis—or the inflammation of the cat’s nasal passages—and asthma can also develop as a result of atopic dermatitis in 15% of animals.¹
Cats that suffer from atopic dermatitis are especially sensitive to certain environmental allergens, whether it’s an airborne allergen, specific parasites, or something they’ve come into contact with in their immediate environment. Feline atopic dermatitis may or may not be seasonal and symptoms of the condition will typically begin to appear within the first five years of a cat’s life.
Aside from atopic dermatitis, food allergies also have the potential to irritate your cat’s skin. In fact, the two conditions share many of the same symptoms. This can make it very difficult for the average pet owner to determine whether atopic dermatitis or food sensitivities are to blame for their cat’s skin allergies.
Cats often display signs of food allergies at a young age, but it’s also possible that symptoms won’t appear until they’re older. In many cases, cats with food allergies will be especially itchy around the head and neck areas. However, the affected areas and intensity of itching may vary depending on your cat.
Lastly, fleas are the most common reason for a cat to have skin issues. Cats are one of the most sensitive pets to fleas and their bites. All it takes is one bite from a flea to cause a reaction.
These three conditions—atopic dermatitis, food allergies, and flea allergies—can lead to cat skin allergies and rashes. Additionally, both of these conditions result in severe itchiness, which causes cats to incessantly scratch and lick at the affected areas. This scratching and licking, in turn, can lead to hair loss on both sides of the cat’s body and further irritation of the skin. Scabs and swelling can arise as a result of excessive scratching and this can potentially lead to an infection if left untreated.
Whether your cat is affected by atopic dermatitis, food allergy, or flea allergies, the most effective treatment strategy will be aimed at eliminating the relevant allergen from the cat’s environment. In addition to removing the allergen and addressing the root of the condition, vets will often provide your cat with something that helps stop the itching or irritation caused by your cat’s skin allergy. This stops your cat from scratching and licking the affected area, which prevents further damage and allows the skin to recover.
The right treatment for your cat’s skin allergies will depend on what’s causing the irritation. In the case of atopic dermatitis, there are a number of ways to address the problem. First of all, owners will want to remove the offending environmental allergen if possible, as this can eliminate symptoms altogether. Other cat skin allergy treatments for atopic dermatitis can include topical skin support treatments to enhance the skin’s ability to act as a barrier to allergens and infectious agents like bacteria and yeast. Other treatments may also include antihistamines, immunosuppressive medications, or allergen-specific immunotherapy treatments that can be delivered via injections or allergy drops.¹
For food allergies, treatment is relatively straightforward if you know which food is affecting your cat, which often isn’t a reality for pet parents. In this case, all you have to do is remove the food from your cat’s diet. To find the food item responsible for your cat’s skin allergies, you’ll have to put your cat on a novel or hydrolyzed protein trial diet for a minimum of 8 weeks to see how they respond to different food items.² They also cannot eat any other treats, snacks, or human food.
Most importantly, every cat should be on proper flea medication to rule in or out a flea allergy every month, all year round. Flea medication should be sought from your vet as most options over the counter do not work or could harm the cat.
Keep in mind that before treatment for your cat’s skin allergies can begin, there must first be a diagnosis. A vet can diagnose your cat’s condition by reviewing your cat’s medical history, conducting a physical examination, and issuing other tests as needed. To quickly schedule an appointment with a qualified vet, use Dutch.com.
With Dutch, you can easily schedule appointments and see a vet from the comfort of your own home, allowing your cat to get the high-quality care they need. Dutch-affiliated vets can evaluate your cat’s skin allergies, provide a diagnosis, and design a customized treatment plan specific to your pet’s symptoms
Itchy Cat: Frequently Asked Questions
What do cat skin allergies look like?
Although there are a wide variety of symptoms that may accompany a cat’s skin allergies, some of the most common signs include excessive itching, skin inflammation, and hair loss. When cats experience skin allergies, they may also develop sores, scabs, and scaling on the surface of their skin.
At what age do cats usually display allergy symptoms?
The age at which cats display allergy symptoms varies depending on the cat.¹ Cats who experience atopic dermatitis will typically display symptoms of the condition within the first five years of their life. When it comes to food allergies, the range for when symptoms first display themselves tends to be much broader. While one study suggested that most cats will display signs of food allergies before their two years old, it’s also possible they don’t show signs until they’re 11 years of age.
How do you treat feline dermatitis?
To design an effective treatment for cat skin allergies, one must first understand what’s causing the allergies. Whether a cat’s skin allergies are caused by fleas, environmental factors, or something in their diet, a diagnosis is the first step in coming up with a treatment plan.
Once a diagnosis has been reached, you can begin treating your cat’s skin allergies. If your cat is suffering from atopic dermatitis, then treatment will likely include topical skin barrier support and immunomodulating therapy, or allergy injections.³
On the other hand, food allergies are treated by identifying the problematic food item and removing it from your cat’s diet. This may involve trying out an elimination diet or finding the best cat food for skin allergies. In any case, the most effective treatment plan for cat skin allergies will be centered around removing the problematic allergen from the cat’s environment.
Lastly cats, including indoor only cats, should be on proper flea medication every month all year round.
Skin allergies are a relatively common condition that many pets deal with in some form or another. If you suspect your cat of having skin allergies, you can rest easy knowing that treatment is generally straightforward and easily accessible. With that being said, you should always treat your cat’s skin allergies as soon as you recognize them in order to prevent more serious conditions from developing.
If you’re looking for a quick and convenient way to treat your cat’s skin allergies, look no further than Dutch.com. We partner with a network of highly qualified vets who can help diagnose your cat’s skin allergies and design a personalized treatment plan to meet their needs.
To get started as a pet owner, all you have to do is schedule an online visit and virtually meet with a Dutch-affiliated vet. In addition to providing you with a comprehensive treatment plan, we’re the only pet telehealth company that delivers medication right to your door.
- White, Stephen D, and Karen A Moriello. “Allergies of Cats - Cat Owners.” MSD Veterinary Manual, MSD Veterinary Manual, Aug. 2018, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/cat-owners/skin-disorders-of-cats/allergies-of-cats.
- Diagnosing Food Allergies in Cats: Elimination Diet Trials . Canadian Academy of Veterinary Dermatology, 2018, https://www.cavd.ca/images/In_Clinic_Tools/CAVD_Diet_Trial_handout_for_Cats.pdf.
- Moriello, Karen A. “Treatment of Skin Disorders in Cats - Cat Owners.” MSD Veterinary Manual, MSD Veterinary Manual, Aug. 2018, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/cat-owners/skin-disorders-of-cats/treatment-of-skin-disorders-in-cat
- “Flea Allergy”. Cornell Feline Health Center. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/flea-allergy
- “Feline Dermatology: Cats Are Not Small Dogs”; https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/dermatology-details-feline-dermatology-cats-are-not-small-dogs/