Successful treatment of feline skin allergies initially requires pinpointing the cause(s) of the allergy and then eliminating the inciting allergen(s) from the cat’s environment. If the allergen(s) cannot be removed or are never identified, medical treatments are available to help control the cat’s symptoms. It is important for owners to work closely with their veterinarians to identify exactly what their cats are allergic to before attempting treatment. Allergies usually are a lifelong problem. The goal of therapy is to eliminate or at least minimize exposure to the inciting allergen(s), while at the same time managing the cat’s comfort and maintaining its quality of life.
Treating Skin Allergies in Cats
Most skin allergies in companion cats are treatable. For example, if the cat’s skin symptoms are caused by an immune-mediated hypersensitivity to flea saliva, the owner has many options available to eradicate that parasite from the cat’s environment. Treatment options include monthly anti-parasitic medications that are applied to the cat’s skin, together with treatment of all other animals and the carpet in the cat’s living environment, as well. Cats with severe allergies to parasite bites may need to be kept exclusively indoors during the warm spring and summer seasons to prevent their allergic reactions.
If a cat is allergic to some environmental inhalant, the owner may be able to remove that substance from the home once it is identified. If grasses or pollens are the culprit, perhaps the owner will consider transitioning their indoor-outdoor cat to a completely indoor environment to easily resolve the problem.
Many topical treatments are available to soothe irritated skin, reduce inflammation and calm itchiness. These include shampoos, lotions, gels, rinses and other topical treatments that your veterinarian can discuss with you. Cool baths can help alleviate the symptoms of feline skin allergies as well, although many cats vigorously resist being bathed.
In cases of food allergies, the cat’s diet obviously will need to be managed once the ingredients that cause the allergies are identified through dietary elimination trials. Owners may use homemade diets or can take advantage of the wide variety of specialized cat foods that are commercially available, including a number of kibbles with unusual protein sources such as salmon, venison or duck. Diets rich in essential fatty acids reportedly help many pruritic animals.
Antihistamines are commonly used to help alleviate the itchiness associated with feline skin allergies. Side effects of these drugs include sleepiness, lethargy, and sometimes nervousness and anxiety. When skin allergies cause severe symptoms that cannot easily be controlled, injectable or oral corticosteroids may be used short-term to calm the clinical signs and break the itch-scratch cycle. This treatment normally is reserved for severe cases, because long-term steroid use can cause debilitating side effects.
Advanced, long-term treatments are available to help adapt a cat’s immune system to the particular allergens involved, again once they are identified. This involves subcutaneous administration of gradually increasing amounts of the inciting allergens, essentially to enhance the cat’s tolerance of contact with those allergens. This type of therapy can take weeks to months to be successful, and maintenance injections should be given periodically to maintain the efficacy of the treatment.