Cat Allergies: Symptoms, Causes, and Natural Treatment
Everyone is always talking about the cat’s pajamas. And we totally get it. They’re adorable. But the real buzzworthy item of discussion should be the cat’s allergies. Not nearly as cute, but much more impactful on everyday life than a fuzzy little one-piece. Allergies will make your feline friend itchy and uncomfortable and lead to agitated sleepless nights for the whole Pack — and if you can’t sleep, what good are those pajamas, anyways?
Allergies seem like an easy explanation, with the simple solution of a steroid shot or allergy prevention pill. But if you don't know more specific information about the allergen offending your cat's immune system, you may find yourself masking the symptoms instead of treating the underlying issue. The term “allergens” can refer to an overwhelming number of potential perpetrators. But when you break them down into three main categories, investigating becomes more straightforward: flea, environmental, and food allergies. Before we get into specifics and discuss holistic treatment, let's start by identifying the symptoms.
Cat allergy symptoms aren't all that different from human allergy symptoms, and usually affect the skin, the respiratory system, or the digestive system. They include:
Dry, red, or flaky skin
Red, runny eyes
Itchy or inflamed ears
Frequent ear infections
Throat inflammation leading to snoring
General restlessness and discomfort
Behavioral symptoms such as scratching and licking
If your cat's symptoms are mild to moderate, the best way to help it is to narrow the list of potential irritants, and start eliminating or avoiding the culprits. If the symptoms seem severe (swollen eardrum, open sores from scratching and licking, trouble breathing, sustained diarrhea or vomiting), make an appointment with a holistic veterinarian.
You may want to do whatever it takes to get rid of the allergen before actually finding out what it is. But if you toss your cat's food, litter, and grooming products all at once to start from scratch, you're missing out on the opportunity to learn what you're up against. Naturally-derived, organic products are undoubtedly better for your cat's health, but taking a methodical approach to introducing them may help prevent a mysterious allergy attack in the future.
Let's start with this basic question: is the reaction caused by fleas, food, or environmental allergies?
You might think that in order for a pet to have an intense reaction to fleas, they would need to be visibly covered in droves of the wingless creatures. But in reality, it only takes one or two nibbles to set off an itching frenzy. This is called flea allergy dermatitis - a hypersensitivity to flea saliva. Even intermittent flea bites can cause intense itching that leads to scratching, gnawing, and licking.
When you notice your cat scratching, examine him/her for fleas - but don't rule out flea dermatitis if you don't spot any. Consider that fleas are a more common problem in the summer, and can be a year-round problem in warmer climates. If your cat's skin is irritated in the middle of a cold winter, it's more likely to be dry skin. However, flea allergy dermatitis is the number one allergic reaction among cats, so be thorough before you write off fleas as a possibility.
Solution - Harsh chemical flea treatments can rid your cat's coat of fleas, but exacerbate skin irritation. If you believe fleas may be the issue, we recommend the Wondercide Pet Parent Pack, which includes a gentle yet effective natural flea spray for pets in two scents, plus a powerful skin tonic spray, which soothes hot spots and itching due to bug bites, allergies, or just plain old dry skin.
Gastrointestinal distress can be an obvious indicator that your cat's diet isn't agreeing with it. When these symptoms are accompanied by an itchy face, neck, and ears, food allergies are almost certainly the problem. On the other hand, your cat doesn't have to exhibit gastrointestinal symptoms to have a food allergy. That's why it's so important to choose a healthy food that's not overly processed and contains no fillers; even if your cat isn't specifically allergic to any of the ingredients, a diet filled with needed nutrients will help boost her immune system function and overall health.
Solution - When it comes to food allergies or intolerance, an elimination diet trial can help you pinpoint the ingredient that's causing problems. Common culprits in cat food include beef, lamb, seafood, dairy, soy, corn, and wheat. Corn, soy, and wheat are often used as fillers, and if these are present, it's likely that the food doesn't provide the needed amount of crude protein or Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
You may want the coaching of a holistic vet as you start an elimination trial diet. This trial involves basing your cat's meals around a novel protein source, seeing if the symptoms clear up, and gradually adding one new ingredient at a time for six to twelve weeks. If symptoms flare up after a new ingredient is added, you'll extract that ingredient and see if they improve again.
During this trial, you'll also need to avoid treats and medications that contain suspected allergens. If you're feeding your cat a fresh, simple, and thoughtful diet yet not thinking twice about the other items, you may not see a lick of improvement for all your hard work. Consider natural, all meat treats and talk to your vet about medications that contain ingredients you want to eliminate.
You may also want to think about adding supplements. Neem Bark Powder is a natural and organic supplement that offers digestive and immune support to cats, and it contains no artificial colors, preservatives, yeast, wheat, soy, dairy, or gluten.
Environmental Allergies (Indoor and Outdoor)
Classifying your cat's allergies as “environmental” hardly narrows it down. It could be anything from pollen to perfume, or from plastic to cleaning products. Your holistic veterinarian can perform intradermal skin testing, but the tests can be costly. Thankfully, there are some simple changes you can make that could reduce your cat's exposure to the things that make it itchy and sneezy.
Solution - First of all, try to remember when your cat started itching, and you may figure out the what and why. Did you recently change her litter brand, or start her on a new medication? It may not have occured to you that a small change could mean a huge, irritating problem.
Switch to all natural grooming products and cut out harsh chemicals. Many cat grooming products and flea shampoos contain artificial fragrances, preservatives, and/or pesticides that can be harsh on the skin and cause respiratory problems. Make sure to bathe your cat frequently, as well. If your cat goes outside frequently and may be allergic to something like pollen or grass, wipe the paws each time it comes in, and give frequent baths to wash away the allergens clinging to the coat.
Rethink your home cleaning products. Think outside of the products you buy specifically for your cat. If she lives indoors, your laundry detergent or surface cleaner could be the culprit. Try a stain and odor remover that's free of harsh chemicals. While you’re at it, use unscented, dust-free litter. While it may keep your house fresh, fragrance in cat litter can cause irritation. Choose a litter with more natural ingredients. You could also get rid of plastic bowls, litter box, and toys. Both cats and dogs can be allergic to plastic, which can be a real problem since so many pet supplies are made of plastic. But there better alternatives that are also more eco-friendly, like metal bowls and fabric toys.
Ear infections can be an unfortunate result of allergies, so make sure you're cleaning your cat's ears frequently with All Ears Wash. It's formulated by a holistic veterinarian to remove wax and dirt, clean and deodorize, reduce painful swelling, and prevent ear infections. If there's already an ear infection, try the All Ears Treatment instead. Apply with a cotton ball or pad and gently wipe dry.
Make sure to keep your living space as free of dust as possible, as dust is an irritant for cats and humans alike. Consider buying a vacuum with a HEPA filter to suck up the many allergens living in your carpets and rugs. Remove your shoes as soon as you walk in the door to avoid tracking pollen or other outdoor irritants inside the house.
If necessary due to outdoor allergens, transition your indoor-outdoor cat to a strictly indoor cat. It's hard to help a cat allergic to grass or pollen if she can't escape the allergen. If you tend to open your windows when it's nice outside, start keeping an eye on the pollen count and maybe keep those windows shut on days when it's high. Cats are sensitive to cigarette smoke, so if your cat is exposed to it, you should try to decrease exposure, as it can cause or exacerbate asthma and other respiratory symptoms.
When you treat your home and yard for fleas, use Flea & Tick Control spray with organic, therapeutic-grade cedar oil. Cedar oil affects octopamine, a compound that is essential to sustaining the lives of fleas, ticks, and other pests. Mammals are not affected by cedar oil in this way because we don't have octopamine neurotransmitters. Easy, healthy home remedies for irritated skin include coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, and DIY soothing oatmeal scrubs.
If these changes don't help you manage your cat's allergies, an intradermal test from a holistic vet may be necessary. As with human allergy tests, this involves injecting potential allergens into the skin to see which ones provoke a reaction, and is carried out while the cat is under anesthesia. Hyposensitization may be the next step to that treatment, which means introducing more and more of the allergen until the immune system loses its sensitivity to it. Ideally, you won't need to go through these procedures, but it's good to know they're available if the other trials don't alleviate your cat's allergies.
There's no cure for allergies, but you can make your cat's life (and yours) a lot easier by preventing fleas, using gentle remedies instead of harsh chemicals, and choosing organic food packed with needed nutrients.