Humans aren’t the only mammals that suffer from allergies—our feline friends can be plagued by many of the same allergy triggers that affect us. When you have an allergic reaction, your immune system interprets a foreign substance as a threat and goes into attack mode. As your body tries to rid itself of the allergen, it creates histamine and other substances that cause allergy symptoms, such as congestion, itchy eyes, and rashes. The same thing happens when your cat encounters one of their allergy triggers.
Cats haven’t been researched as much as dogs, and certainly not as extensively as humans, so there’s still a lot left to learn about how they inherit allergies to specific triggers. We’re not completely in the dark, though, so let’s take a look at what we do know about cat allergies.
Can cats be allergic to peanuts or other foods?
Yes, cats can have allergic reactions to different foods. The most commonly reported food allergies for cats are beef, dairy, and fish, but cats can be sensitive to a wide range of dietary ingredients. (Remember, cats don’t typically eat plants, nuts, or seeds, so those types of allergies aren’t reported as often.)
Usually, symptoms of cat food allergy include skin irritation and itching, but around 10% of cats may also experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea when they eat one of their trigger foods. Look to your cat’s head and neck for signs of a food allergy. If you see small, fluid-filled bumps, hair loss, skin lesions, or coat deterioration, it’s a sign that your cat may be allergic to something in their diet.
Skin irritation from food allergies isn’t harmful on its own. However, itchy skin may cause some cats to start scratching or licking obsessively, creating open wounds that leave them vulnerable to infection. If your cat’s food allergy also causes vomiting or diarrhea, it may make them more hesitant to eat food in the future. No matter which symptoms your cat experiences, it’s important to talk to a vet about any potential food allergies before they turn into a bigger health problem.
What can you do if you think your cat has a food allergy?
If your vet suspects that a food allergy is to blame for your cat’s symptoms, they’ll probably suggest starting them on a new diet to help you pinpoint which ingredients are causing the allergic reaction. This new diet is called an elimination diet, and it should help your cat find some relief from their food allergy symptoms.
Note: Cats are sensitive to any changes in their diet, and you should talk to your vet before switching foods, especially if your cat is exhibiting allergy symptoms.
For the elimination diet, you’ll want to choose a new cat food with none of the proteins (chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, beef) or carbohydrates (corn, wheat, barley, potatoes) found in their old food. Your vet will help you choose the right food for your furry friend, and they’ll likely recommend strictly keeping your cat on this food—without any treats or stolen food from humans or other household pets—for up to three months.
If food was the culprit behind your cat’s allergy symptoms, you should notice them starting to feel better within around two weeks. Then, you can work with your vet to slowly reintroduce different foods into your cat’s diet, looking for signs of allergy symptoms returning. An elimination diet can be a lengthy process, but it’s the most definitive way to figure out which foods trigger your cat’s immune response so you can avoid them in the future.
Can cats have respiratory allergies to pollen and dust?
Like humans, cats can also be allergic to airborne allergy triggers, such as pollen, mold, and dust. Once an allergen hits your cat’s respiratory tract, their immune system overreacts, as if they inhaled something harmful like a virus. This leads to allergy symptoms that usually mirror those seen in humans. Potential allergy triggers in cats include:
- Pollens and grasses;
- Mold and mildew;
- Dust mites.
Here’s another similarity between cats and humans: respiratory allergens can also trigger feline asthma symptoms. If your cat has asthma, they may experience coughing, wheezing, or trouble breathing when exposed to certain airborne allergy triggers.
Can cats get allergy symptoms like sneezing and sniffling?
Cat allergy symptoms are usually easy to spot because they look so much like human allergy symptoms. Exposure to allergens can leave your cat feeling sniffly and sneezy, just like you may be after walking through the park on a pollen-heavy spring day. Other signs of allergies in cats can include:
- Skin itching or irritation;
- Hair loss;
- Coughing, sneezing, or wheezing;
- Watery eyes or runny nose.
If your cat suffers from seasonal or year-round allergies, your vet may prescribe antihistamines, corticosteroids, immunosuppressive drug therapy, or allergy shots to treat their symptoms. These medications are similar to the ones humans use to treat allergies, but the prescriptions you get from your vet are specially formulated to be safe and effective in cats.
What bugs are cats allergic to?
The most common bug-related allergy in cats is fleas. For most cats, flea bites cause minor skin irritation. If a cat is allergic to fleas—or, rather, the proteins or antigens in flea saliva—they can experience severe allergy symptoms from a single bite. For allergic cats, fleas can lead to intense itching or chewing on the skin, hair loss, open sores, and scabs. Usually, you’ll see flea allergy sores near the base of the tail, rump, neck, and head. (These scabs are called military dermatitis, and they can leave your cat vulnerable to bacterial skin infections.)
Other than fleas, cats can also have allergic reactions to bites and stings from other bugs, such as mosquitoes, ants, bees, and wasps. Cats are nosy by nature, and sometimes they can’t help intruding in an insect’s territory. Since bugs tend to sting or bite whatever’s closest, your cat’s nose, eyes, face, and feet are the most likely targets for angry critters.
Insect venom can cause a wide range of symptoms in cats, from slight skin irritation to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Signs of a severe allergic reaction may include:
- Wheezing or trouble breathing;
- Dizziness, agitation, or disorientation;
If you notice your cat showing any of the above symptoms, especially if you know they were just bitten or stung by a bug, contact your vet immediately for advice. In cases of severe allergic reactions, quick treatment is key to preventing shock.
Note: Many pesticides and bug sprays can be dangerous for cats, so you shouldn’t use them to protect your cat from bites or stings. Instead, ask your vet about safe alternatives to pesticides if you’re worried about your cat’s exposure to different insects.
Can cats have skin allergies?
Yes, cats can also have skin allergies unrelated to food or flea bites. Contact allergies aren’t as common as other types of allergies, but they can still lead to unpleasant symptoms that you’ll need to address. If an allergic substance touches your cat’s skin, you may see skin lesions on their head and neck, as well as hair loss from scratching or licking. Contact skin allergies in cats may be triggered by:
- Flea collars;
- New bedding;
- Allergens, including pollen, mold, and dust mites.
Cats can also experience skin irritation from imbalances in the mycobiome of beneficial organisms that live in and on their fur. This is one of the reasons you’re generally not supposed to bathe your pet cat. Aside from the behavioral trauma that can happen when you force your cat into the bath, you may unintentionally wash away beneficial microorganisms that help protect them from skin disease.
Removing allergens from your home
The best way to relieve your cat’s allergy symptoms is to remove the presence of allergy triggers in your home. (If they’re an outdoor cat, you have less control over the things they’re exposed to throughout the day.) You can work with your vet to narrow down potential allergens until you figure out what’s irritating your cat.
Food allergies and contact skin allergies can usually be relieved by removing the trigger. Respiratory allergies are a little trickier since you don’t always notice the allergens floating in your indoor air. To minimize airborne allergens like dust, pollen, and mold, try these tips:
- Keep windows shut on high-pollen days to keep pollen from entering your home.
- Take your shoes off when you enter your house to avoid tracking pollen and other outdoor contaminants through your home.
- Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture regularly to reduce dust buildup.
- Wash bedding (yours and your cat’s) regularly.
- Dust your home regularly with a damp cloth or microfiber towel.
- Use an air purifier to filter allergens and other pollutants from your indoor air.
- Avoid smoking indoors and using air fresheners or harsh cleaning sprays that may irritate your cat’s allergies or asthma.
No one likes seeing their cat feeling under the weather, even if it’s just a little bit of seasonal allergies. By taking steps to improve your indoor air quality, you can help reduce the presence of airborne allergy triggers in your home. Your cat (and your lungs) will thank you.