Diagnosing Pet Allergies

By Sharon Naylor

February 29, 2012 6 min read

Just like humans, cats can develop allergies. If this happens, a qualified veterinarian should diagnose and treat your pet. A seemingly minor symptom could actually be the sign of a much larger and more dangerous condition.

Here are the most common signs that your cat might have an allergy: coughing, sneezing or wheezing; itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose; persistent scratching, licking and skin chewing; paw chewing or swollen paws; face and ear rubbing; itchy base of tail; inflamed skin patches or hair loss; ear infections; frequent vomiting or diarrhea; and snoring caused by an inflamed throat.

If you see these symptoms in your cat, call your veterinarian right away for a full range of tests that will accurately diagnose the one or more allergies your pet has developed. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says: "When a cat has allergies, (its) immune system is overly sensitive to certain everyday substances and begins to identify them as dangerous. Even though these substances -- or allergens -- are usually common in most environments and harmless to most animals, a cat with allergies will have an extreme reaction to them."

Through skin testing and blood testing, your vet will be able to determine the substances or allergen that your cat is reacting to, such as dust, grass, mold, ragweed, or even the material of your cat's litter or the plastic of its chew toys, says the ASPCA. Other environmental irritants include perfume, cigarette smoke and cleaning products. "We had to stop using commercial cleaning products and switch to all-natural brands," says kitten owner Riley Alswood. "Which helped Noodles' allergy situation a lot."

Together with your veterinarian, you can alleviate your cat's allergy suffering with a variety of remedies.

--Airborne allergies. When a human suffers from mold, pollen, ragweed and other inhalant allergies, a doctor often prescribes antihistamines such as Benadryl. While friends may tell you that you can give your pet human-product allergy medications, always follow the advice of your vet, and give your pet the prescription or specialty medication that the vet says. The ASPCA suggests cleaning your cat's bedding once a week and dusting and vacuuming more often than your usual routine to free rugs, curtains, upholstered chairs and other materials from allergy-triggering dust. Some pet owners invest in portable air purifier machines and install allergen-reducing filters in their air conditioning units. Using a dust-free, unscented litter may also alleviate allergy symptoms, and your vet may encourage you to bathe your cat one or two times a week with a special, all-natural shampoo that doesn't dry out the skin.

The ASPCA says, "In the case of airborne pollens, your vet may prescribe cortisone or steroids to help control the allergy, but the best way to manage airborne allergies is with allergy injections, which treat the allergy itself instead of just masking the itch."

--Food allergies. Pet supply company Iams says that food allergies can be the most difficult to diagnose and manage, because vomiting and diarrhea may occur with a change in diet and aren't always a sign of an allergy. Scratching the head and neck after eating as well as gastrointestinal distress are signs of a food allergy says the ASPCA. All-over skin problems can be a sign of food allergies, too.

Your vet may suggest an elimination diet, in which you cut out certain types of foods or feed your cat a completely prescription diet for 12 weeks before reintroducing basic foods back into its diet to determine which foods are causing the allergy. Skin tests may also be conducted to determine the foods that are the culprits.

Once the offending food is identified, you will need to inspect the ingredients list of all food and treat brands to be sure that, say, chicken is not even a minute portion of the ingredients. This can get tricky if the allergen is wheat, soy or other common pet food items, and some owners choose, instead, to cook their pet's food using all-natural ingredients, following the veterinarian's carefully constructed meal plan.

--Contact allergies. If your cat tests positive for allergies to certain types of materials, you'll need to remove those fabrics and get rid of plastic or rubber toys, climbing sets, water and food bowls, even the cat's litter box -- replacing them with an allergy-friendly item.

Fatty acid supplements, sprays containing oatmeal, aloe and other natural products for itch relief may be suggested by your vet.

--Flea allergies. Prevention is key to a kitten's health, so start a flea prevention program for all of your pets, according to your veterinarian's advice and product suggestion. If you have an outdoor pet in addition to your indoor cat, your cat may experience a bite from a flea brought inside by another pet. The ASPCA says that cats with flea allergies can chew their skin raw, leading to hair loss, odor and infection; so careful flea control is a must.

Your veterinarian will diagnose fleabites and allergies and suggest flea-fighting bath solutions, powders or orally taken medications.

Be aware that sensitivity to environmental allergens, stress and being overweight can cause asthma in kittens and cats, and your vet can prescribe medications such as corticosteroids to control this life-threatening condition.

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