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Cat Skin Allergies: Symptoms & Treatments

Cats, like their canine counterparts, can develop itchy, painful skin conditions as a result of allergies. Our Statesboro veterinarians explain some of the causes of skin allergies in cats and how to treat them.

Types of Allergies in Cats

If your cat has an allergy, it means its immune system has overreacted or is hypersensitive to a specific substance. An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. Food, pollen, dander, and mold are all common allergens in humans.

An allergic reaction to a substance can lead to 3 general types of symptoms:

  • Skin -  Itching of the skin, either in a specific spot or more generalized all over your cat's body.
  • Respiratory - Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and other respiratory issues including discharge from the nose or eyes.
  • Gastrointestinal - The third manifestation involves the digestive system and can result in vomiting, flatulence, and/or diarrhea.

Parasites that live in or on the cat's body, allergins that cause a reaction upon contact, allergins that are ingested, and allergens that are inhaled are all responsible for these different reactions.

In today's blog, we look at different causes of skin allergies in cats, the associated symptoms, and how they can be treated.

Causes of Skin Allergies in Cats & How They Are Treated

When it comes to skin allergies, the allergins causing the condition will either be parasites, food allergies, or environmental allergies.

Contact Allergies

While not particularly common, contact allergies can occur in some cats leading to rashes and patches of irritated skin wherever the allergin has come in direct contact with the cat's body. Common contact allergens include flea collars, shampoos, various materials that makeup bedding, etc. While it can be challenging to pinpoint the precise cause of your cat's allergy it's worth the effort since removing or simply not using the allergin will clear up your cat's symptoms quickly and easily.


Contrary to popular belief, not all cats will scratch wildly when bitten by a flea. In many cases, a flea bite is just a minor irritation. But if your cat is allergic to the proteins or antigens in flea saliva just a single bite could lead to a severe reaction resulting in intense itching. In many cases this will cause your cat to scratch relentlessly or chew their skin, removing large amounts of hair in the process. If your cat has skin allergies because of fleas you might notice scabs or open sores on the skin, particularly at the base of the tail. These sores can result in secondary bacterial skin infections. 

Keeping fleas away from your pet is the best way to treat this allergy. If your cat has fleas, talk to your veterinarian about different flea control products and how to get rid of them. Your veterinarian may prescribe corticosteroids (cortisone or steroids) to help block the allergic reaction and provide immediate relief for your cat's itching. If your cat has a secondary skin infection as a result of scratching, antibiotics may be required.

Food Allergies in Cats

Cats develop food allergies as a result of an immune reaction to a food ingredient or additive. Chicken, turkey, and beef are common food allergies in cats. Some commercially produced cat foods, such as corn and wheat, may cause allergic reactions in some cats, while food additives and preservatives may cause allergic reactions in others. Itchy skin, digestive problems, and respiratory distress are all symptoms of food allergies.

An elimination or hypoallergenic diet is usually prescribed for cats suspected of having a food allergy.

These diets entail feeding your cat only ingredients they've never tried before, such as rabbit or venison, and eliminating their regular food. These diets must be strictly followed to be effective. There will be no cat treats (unless they are approved as part of the diet), and no table scraps will be sneaked. Elimination diets must be followed for 9-12 weeks to allow your cat's body to rid itself of all traces of the problematic ingredient and begin the healing process.

Inhalant & Atopy Allergies

Allergies to substances found in the environment, such as ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites, and pollutants like cigarette smoke, are known as inhalant and atopy allergies. Allergic reactions in cats can cause severe itching all over the body. Because cats with these allergies are frequently allergic to multiple substances, pinpointing the exact cause can take time. While many of these allergies are seasonal, similar to hayfever in people, itching can occur year-round in some cases.

Treatment for these allergies largely depends on the severity of the allergy and whether it is seasonal. A hypoallergenic diet can help relieve symptoms and treatments can include:

  • Corticosteroids (prednisone)
  • Sprays and shampoos to improve the health of the skin
  • Antihistamines
  • Essential fatty acids/fish oils
  • Immunosuppressive drug therapy
  • Antigen injections/allergy shots

Ongoing Treatment for Cats with Skin Allergies

It's important to remember that many treatments for skin allergies in cats take time to work and aren't suitable for sudden flare-ups. Treatments for acute symptoms as well as long-term management of the condition will be provided by your veterinarian.

While treatment can help control and relieve your cat's symptoms, the problem can only be solved by preventing your cat from coming into contact with the allergin. This means that, while your cat may be symptom-free for long periods, symptoms will most likely return at some point in the future. Your veterinarian will be able to assist you and your cat in dealing with allergic reactions as they arise.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat is being tormented by an uncomfortable skin problem contact our Statesboro vets today to book an examination for your kitty.

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