As the seasons change, many people will deal with sneezing and watery eyes — the tell-tale signs of allergies,

But did you know cats can develop allergies, too? An allergic reaction is when the immune system responds to a foreign substance by sending antibodies into the body to fight off or to protect it. It is not clear why certain substances cause these reactions, but knowing the signs and what to do for our feline companions can be tricky. After all, they can’t speak for themselves.


There are a lot of signs that point to an allergic reaction that might be developing. The most obvious and common sign is excessive itching and scratching in the same place over and over, and licking the same areas over and over. These behaviors could lead to hair loss and mild to severe irritation of the cat’s skin. If you spot these behaviors, be sure to first check for fleas or ticks. Since these pests can travel indoors on our shoes, pant legs or other animals, even indoor cats can get infested. And, some cats can have rather severe allergic reactions to pest bites. 

You may also notice other symptoms of allergies, such as difficulty breathing, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, vomiting and diarrhea. Of course, if any of these symptoms are severe or start suddenly, you’ll want to call your vet immediately.

Common Types of Allergies

A whole host of home-based allergens can be at fault for a kitty’s allergies, such as plants in the home, dust mites, perfumes used for air fresheners, etc. There may even be ingredients in the cat’s litter that are causing the issue. 

Cats can also have reactions to prescribed medications, flea treatment meds, flea/tick collars, 

Cigarettes and other smoke in the home can contribute to your cat having an allergic reaction and even developing asthma. Cats should never be exposed to confined spaces where smoking takes place. Even smoke from burning wood, food or chemical items that do not burn clean (like using the self-clean feature on your oven) can contribute negatively to your kitty’s health.

While many things can cause allergic reactions in cats, it’s actually a myth that it’s common for kitties to develop food allergies. What many cats do experience is food intolerances. Food intolerance and food allergy are two different diagnoses. Food allergies involve the cat’s immune system response to the food whereas a food intolerance involves the cat’s digestive system and its inability to properly eliminate or process the food ingested.  

Diagnosing Your Cat

It’s possible you might be in tune with your cat and know what items to eliminate from their environment to stop an allergic reaction. However, it’s best to report your kitty’s more troublesome allergic behaviors to your vet. This way, your kitty can get feeling better sooner and can avoid a more severe reaction that might be right around the corner. 

Your veterinarian will likely want to do a full check of their skin, ears and eyes. And, taking blood might be a next step to understand if kitty has an internal issue that is causing her symptoms. There are also dermatological specialists that a cat might be referred to for more severe cases. 

If your vet things a food intolerance may be the culprit, he or she vet may ask you to perform what’s called an elimination diet to root out the cause of a food intolerance or a food allergy. Elimination diets boil down to you and your vet agreeing on your cat eating one type of food, daily, for an extended period of time. Then, at the end of the trial period, you can introduce food and treats, one at a time, that kitty ate previously to isolate which food caused the reaction. 

Preventing Allergic Reactions 

It is not possible to prevent all allergies in cats, as it’s not possible to eliminate them in human beings. But, it’s very possible to work quickly to address the potentials for reactions in your feline friend. 

Some ideas include giving kitty the best possible food choice you can afford, using metal or ceramic food bowls (as opposed to plastics), using low-dust, fragrance-free cat litter, eliminating or reducing the amount of fragrances in the home, dusting and vacuuming the home weekly, and not smoking in the home.

Final Thoughts

With a little bit of forethought and a watchful eye, you should be able to reduce your kitty’s chances for allergic reactions and catch any that do emerge quickly. Just remember, your cat won’t be able to request a Zyrtec(R) or Claritin(R) when he or she is feeling badly. So it’s up to us to be their voice.

Wishing you, and your cats, good health this autumn season!

Written by Kathleen Silver

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