How to tell if your cat has allergies

We’ve all heard of people with allergies to cats – but what about cats that experience allergies? Cats are notoriously difficult to read, so it can be difficult to know when your cat is experiencing allergies, and how to diagnose what they’re allergic to. Thankfully our in-house veterinarian Dr. Darcia Kostiuk answers important questions about what cats are allergic to, how to tell when they’re allergic, and what to do if your cat is experiencing allergies.  

What are cats allergic to?

Cats can have food allergies, contact allergies and environmental allergies. The most common cat food allergy is to animal proteins! Allergies to beef are number one, with fish allergies second and chicken allergies third. Common plant protein allergies cats experience are wheat and corn. Non-protein food allergies can include fungi and food colorants.

Environmental allergies can include soaps, dust, pollen and smoke. Cutaneous (skin) contact allergies are allergies they experience through skin contact, and this includes substances like laundry soaps and perfumes that they may be exposed to.

What causes cat allergies?

Allergies are caused by an immune hypersensitivity in the gut, the respiratory system or the skin. The immune system is meant to protect the cat from these different exposures, but sometimes the immune system simply becomes over-reactive to certain exposures and an allergy is created. Cats can even develop allergies to different kitty litter and its dust!

What are the symptoms of cat allergies?

Food allergies: Vomiting and diarrhea are common indications of a food allergy, and they can be inconsistent or vary in intensity. Sometimes cats react with soft stools, and the next time it can be watery diarrhea.

Contact allergies: Cat skin that doesn’t have fur on it (think toes, or areas where the fur is thinner such as the armpit area, groin or face between ears and eyes) are usually the first areas to be affected and may become red and irritated, with the cat increasing licking at those spots.  Eventually, the contact allergy can lead to fur loss and very irritated skin.

Environmental allergies: Often this results in an allergic bronchitis in which the cat is very wheezy when it breathes and can be a very serious problem.

What should I do if I think my cat has allergies?

If you think your cat has allergies, begin by being very astute in your observation and perhaps even start a diary so you have a good handle on when and how the symptoms occur. Then schedule an appointment with your trusted vet and go through it together – the diary will be very helpful for you and your vet to pinpoint what is going on with your cat and how best to help them.

Can cats have seasonal allergies?

Yes, environmental allergies such as pollen, dust, etc. can seasonally affect your cat.

How can you help relieve your cat’s allergies?

Depending on what kind of allergy your cat has, it is best to work with your veterinarian on the appropriate course of action, whether it involves switching your cat to a limited ingredient diet or hydrolyzed diet, changing laundry soaps, or changing medications as some examples.

Dr. Darcia Kostiuk is the senior veterinarian behind ORIJEN pet foods. She has over 20 years of veterinary experience and is the proud pet parent of Max, Ruby, Jinxi and Ember.