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Causes and Prevention of Atopy in Cats

Source: PetWave, Updated on December 22, 2015

How Cats Get Atopy

Feline atopy is an inflammatory, itchy (pruritic) and abnormal overreaction by the immune system that causes a cat to become hypersensitive to regular things in the environment, called allergens, that normally wouldn’t cause it to have any sort of allergic reaction. Atopy is widely considered to be influenced by genetics. However, the mode of inheritance is not well-understood, and factors in addition to heredity undoubtedly influence development of the disorder. Common things that reportedly have been associated with causing feline atopy include pollen, grasses, weeds, trees and other plants, molds, fungi, household cleaners, dust, dust mites, fleas, ticks, lice, animal dander or dandruff, fertilizers, chemicals, kitty litter and countless other environmental allergens. There is no definite gender or breed predisposition for feline atopy, although most affected cats develop symptoms between 3 months and 3 years of age. The condition can be seasonal or non-seasonal, depending on the prevalence and presence of whatever is causing skin allergies in the kitty. Many cats – reportedly up to 20% or 30% of those with atopy – suffer from concurrent food allergies and/or flea bite dermatitis that contribute to their skin problems, including itchiness, inflammation, irritation, redness and hair loss.

Preventing Atopy in Cats

Allergic reactions caused by the immune system’s hypersensitivity or overreaction to something in the environment that usually doesn’t cause a cat to develop skin problems typically can be prevented by eliminating or at least minimizing the animal’s exposure to the offending allergen(s). Most of the time, the allergens can be identified by a veterinarian through specialized allergy tests on the skin (intradermal skin tests) or blood (seriologic tests), if the cause of the cat’s condition is not otherwise obvious. Other prevention techniques include avoiding anything that might cause the cat to be itchy, such as fleas, ticks, mites, lice and ingredients in food that cause the cat’s skin to become itchy, red and inflamed.

Special Notes

There is no one simple test for feline atopy. Instead, the diagnosis is made based on the nature of the cat’s symptoms, its history and its response to treatment. There are a number of things that can be done for cats with atopy, but the “right” treatment protocol depends on what caused the condition, the cat’s overall health and the severity and length of its symptoms. Atopy in cats rarely can be cured. However, it normally can be well-controlled with medication, dietary management and life-style changes. Fortunately, atopy is not life-threatening, but it does require life-long medical management to ensure that the cat maintains a good quality of life.

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