All cats occasionally scratch and bite at their skin. Excessive and persistent scratching, licking, biting or hair loss however, may be signs that your cat has an allergic skin disease. Just like in people, cats can develop allergic reactions to a variety of agentscat allergies can be caused by a variety of agents. Understanding the types of allergies that occur in cats can help you to seek prompt veterinary care and relief for your pet.My cat is losing its hair, what can I do?
What is a skin allergy?
Allergies are one of the most common causes of skin problems in cats. Allergic skin disease (also called allergic dermatitis) occurs when a pet’s immune system over-reacts to a particular substance (called an “antigen”), leading to symptoms such as redness, swelling, heat or, pain.
The most common substances that are responsible for cat skin allergies are:
- - inhaled allergens (such as pollen, or mites)
- - contact allergens
- - fleas
- - certain proteins in food.
The symptoms of allergic skin disease are:
- - intense and prolonged itchiness that the cat experiences upon exposure to the allergenic substance
- - redness and lesions in areas of affected skin (caused primarily by constant scratching, licking and biting)
- - skin infections caused by bacteria (causing additional itching, pustules and scabs to develop)
Diagnosis can be difficult because of the many possible causes of dermatitis. To identify the cause of the allergic skin disease,your vet will use your cat’s medical history, the pattern and frequency of itching episodes and the elimination of other potential causes.
If the suspected cause of the skin disease is inhaled particles (such as pollen, grass, dust mites and molds) your vet will do atest, injecting a small amount of the allergen into the skin to identify to what your cat is allergic to.
In cases where a cat food allergy is the suspected cause of the issues, diet elimination trials can be used to discover which dietary component is responsible. During the elimination food trial the cat is fed exclusively either a diet containing ingredients that it has never been exposed to previously, or a dietin which the protein source is broken down(hydrolyzed) into smaller units that are incapable of triggering an immune response. This “eliminates” all potential sources of food allergens from the diet. This “special diet” is fed to the cat for 8 to 12 weeks and the cat is observed regularly for a reduction in symptoms of an allergic reaction. If the cat shows a clear reduction or complete absence of symptoms(i.e. stops itching), this is considered indicative of a food allergy. If there has been no change in symptoms but a food allergy is still strongly suspected, a second food trial using a different novel food source may be warranted. The diagnosis is confirmed by re-feeding your cat the original diet and observing for a return of symptoms(e.g. itchiness).
You can help your cat limit the risk of skin reactions associated with food sensitivity by feeding a diet that contains a restricted number of protein sources such as PRO PLAN Delicate dry food or with adapted levels of essential omega 3 fatty acids such as PRO PLAN Nutrisavour Delicate.