3 Cat Allergy Causes

Find out how cat allergies to fleas, food and inhaled allergens can cause a cat's itching from CatChannel and CAT FANCY veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM

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Cat Scratching
If you notice your cat scratching excessively, or see scabs on his head or neck, you might be seeing signs of allergies.
Q: My indoor cat, a small Manx, is getting these small hard, almost hard scab like spots on her head and neck area. They aren't fleas, but she is frequently scratching them and I don't know what they might be or if there is something we can get or do for her. Do you have any ideas?

A: Your cat’s small scabs in the head and neck area indicates skin inflammation called "miliary dermatitis.” They are likely a result of some type of allergic dermatitis. Flea allergy, food allergy, and atopy (allergies to inhaled allergens) are the three most common cat allergies.

Cat Flea Allergy
A totally indoor cat like yours is unlikely to be affected by fleas (although it is possible for people to track fleas into the house on clothing or shoes). Examine your cat’s hair coat for evidence of fleas, i.e. live fleas or flea droppings (little black specks that look like grains of pepper).

Cat Food Allergy
Cat food allergy can cause miliary dermatitis, especially around the head and face. To prove whether your cat has become allergic to the protein (or, less likely, the carbohydrate) source in the food, a feeding trial in which your cat is fed a hypoallergenic diet — a diet containing a protein source to which your cat has never been exposed — can be attempted. Most vets carry prescription diets like this, in which the main protein source is rabbit, venison or duck, and the carbohydrate source is green pea. The cat must be fed this diet only; no treats or snacks of any kind can be fed during the trial, or the results will be inconclusive. If there is no improvement after 8 to 10 weeks, then food allergy is unlikely.

Cat Allergy to Inhaled Allergens (Atopy)
Allergy to inhaled substances (atopy) is the most likely cause for your cat’s scabby skin. Cat atopy could be a seasonal allergy, for example, an allergy to some kind of plant that is in bloom at this time of year in your geographical region. Or your cat could be allergic to something your cat is continuously exposed to, such as house dust mites.

Testing  Cats for Allergies
Intradermal skin testing, performed by a veterinary dermatologist, can help determine the specific allergen, but this is rarely necessary. To control your cat’s itching, try anti-histamines in combination with omega-3 fatty acids. If this does not control the itching and scabbing on your cat, try a short course of an anti-inflammatory drug such as prednisolone. Cats initially take a higher dose, which is then quickly tapered as the itching comes under control.
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Reader Comments

inge    las vegas, NV

3/2/2015 2:31:43 PM

I have a male cat, who get treated for his allergies with steroids. He gets better, but after a week to two his starts scratching again. I tested him for mites - negative, he is scratching his upper eyes up to the ears, until it becomes bloody. He had the same allergies when I adopted him. None of my other three cats show any signs of the same symptoms, they all sleep together. I switched catfood, with no results. what else can I do? i really do not want to give him continues the steroids, which can not be good for him. Help

Samantha    Doylestown, PA

3/12/2013 9:47:37 AM

Renal failure not email failure. Ha!

Samantha    Doylestown, PA

3/12/2013 9:43:04 AM

I adopted my cat, Benny, after my blind cat, Jake, had to be put to sleep. Jake was in end stage email failure and it was literally the hardest decision to make. We met Benny at a rescue and he reminded us so much of Jake, we had to take him home.
First, he started scratching and biting all of his fur out. The vet had no idea what it could be so, we treated for fleas to rule that out. That still wasn't helping so the next step was to rule out food allergies. In the meantime, the poor little guy was in a lot of pain. After non stop googling for four days I found out that the type of litter we were using, World's Best Cat Litter, causes severe allergies in some cats because it is made of corn, which is a very common allergy. Switched the litter and cleaned out the boxes meticulously, and after a few days the scratching was almost completely gone. If you are using a corn based litter, I would switch ASAP as allergies can develop without warning.
Then, he had a flare from an infection he acquired from a cat fight before he was caught. We know this because his bio said he was limping when a woman saw him and called the rescue. After the litter debacle, we noticed him limping and we called the woman who fostered him who said his infection was never treated because there was no puncture wound present and he was in a crate the whole time she had him. We took him to the vet and had to leave him over night for iv fluids and antibiotics because his leg was so infected the hair on it was coming out in clumps. No hate to rescues, though. They do their very best with limited resources. The lady from the rescue was amazing, though. She called to check up on Benny and even offered to refund our adoption fee as a conciliation for the money we had to spend. We opted not to take it so that it could be used to take care of animals in need.
After all of that went on, I still noticed a little scratching around the neck area but not enough to cause concern until I noticed a patch of bald skin directly under his throat. I watched him for another 2 days because so far, I'd been pretty good at figuring out his issues. I noticed him "licking his lips" in a way that made me think he could have some nausea. He was a street cat, after all. He was probably living on trash and rodents before we got him (his poo also smelled like DEATH). I gave him an 1/8 of a Pepcid (normal cat does is 1/4 of a 10 mg pill but, he's so small I didn't want to give him too much) and no more nauseous lip licking OR throat scratching. His poo also didnt smell like a rotting carcass today. I'm pretty sure he has acid reflux from all of the stress and the diet change. I plan on doing that for 10 days to give his tiny stomach time to heal and then seeing if I can take him off of it.

Food for thought if your cat is scratching his throat too much. It could be that his stomach is so acidic it's burning his throat.

CatChannelEditor    Irvine, CA

6/11/2012 8:08:12 AM

Shirley -- A vet must examine your cat to determine what's going on. Please take your cat in for an exam so that you can get specific information on how to get her healthy. Good luck

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