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Dr. Gary Thompson


Allergies in cats can be tricky to diagnose

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    Allergies in cats differ greatly than those that manifest in their canine counterparts.


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It should come as no surprise that cats manifest allergies quite differently than their canine counterparts. They are susceptible to many of same allergens as people and dogs, but the symptoms can be confounding to owners and remembering feline behavior will help sort out the outward manifestations of the condition.


Allergies in cats differ greatly than those that manifest in their canine counterparts.


While many cats have an exclusively indoor lifestyle, they will still experience seasonal allergies just like people and dogs. They are not always tromping around in the backyard and sticking their noses in every bush they pass like their somewhat less classy canine roommates, but those allergens still work their way into the household. Once in the indoor environment, the route that most cats will be exposed arises from their fastidious nature since daily grooming is a huge part of feline behavior and the focal point of the grooming is the mouth.

For this reason, some cats will develop red, raised plaques or ulcers around the oral cavity as the only outward symptoms of allergic dermatitis. This grooming behavior can limit the time that allergens are on the skin and people may not notice any sores or scabs like dogs can develop from allergies, resulting in the only visible symptoms of seasonal allergies in cats being thinning of the hair on the abdomen or legs. Dogs can also have circular crusts from secondary bacterial infections that people will confuse with a fungal infection like ringworm, but while skin infections are not unusual in cats, the distribution of the infection tends to be more widespread bumps called milliary dermatitis.



Determining the source of the allergies is challenging in cats and sometimes empirical treatment for several sources is needed. People have a hard time accepting that their indoor-only cat’s allergies might be something as simple as a reaction to flea bites. If they share a house with a dog, the possibility of fleas being introduced into the household is high and if the number of adult fleas on the cat is low, people will never see any evidence resulting from the fleas from being groomed off by the cat. Occasionally the only evidence your indoor-only cat may show of a flea infestation could be the presence of tapeworm segments in the stool since the flea is the intermediate host of a certain species of tapeworm.

Your veterinarian may start your cat on regular flea prevention for a period to see if symptoms improve. And remember fleas can remain in the environment for up to a year under the right conditions, so even if you feel your cat is doing well, keep up with the treatment to avoid allowing the fleas to re-emerge.

For mild seasonal allergies, treatment involves managing the flare ups on the skin and any secondary infections that have developed. Your veterinarian may give a cortisone injection coupled with an antibiotic injection to avoid having to give any oral medications. If the symptoms are serious or last throughout the year, then steroids are not a good option and more investigation will be needed to determine the source of the allergies.

This can be challenging, and your veterinarian may look at dietary choices or testing to establish what the offending allergens could be, so hang in there. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment choices that can control more serious nonseasonal allergies once you and your veterinarian eliminate other potential triggers.

Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be emailed to or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 N. Superior St. Toledo, OH, 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.

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