As with other allergies, making a correct diagnosis of feline atopy takes some detective work. Cats have the tendency on having several allergies at the same time, if they are prone to allergy. So finding the proper combination of treatments can be tricky – but it is doable, so do not give up and leave your cat feeling miserable.
When you take your cat to the vet, do tell if there is something specific you suspect to be the reason of the allergy. You may have noticed the allergic reaction gets worse when then cat is exposed to some specific thing and telling about it just might make doing the proper diagnosis easier.
The feline atopy diagnosis is often done with skin and blood tests, the former being the most accurate way to diagnose inhalant allergy in cats. (Other possible causes for the skin trouble have to be ruled out first: contact dermatitis, fleas, fungal infections, mange, ringworms).
Skin testing can be done with skin scraping and also by intradermal testing. In intradermal testing the suspected allergens are injected through the skin. After these subcutaneous injections it should take from three to five hours to see, which antigen causes an allergic reaction in the skin.
Blood tests show if there are antibodies for any specific antigen in the cat’s blood.
If your cat is already on steroids or antihistamines for some other illness, these should not be used for several weeks (2 to 12) before the testing for feline atopy as they obviously interfere with the test results. So, if you are taking your cat to a new vet, remember to tell this.
Once the cause of the inhalant allergy has been found, you obviously need to isolate your cat from the cause.
But first, if the itching is bad, the vet may give your cat steroids. Cats tolerate steroids quite well, and they don’t cause such side effects as they do in humans. But they can increase your cat’s appetite, cause incontinence and behavioral changes, and affect the cat’s immune system. Still, steroids stop the itch so quickly and dramatically their use is recommended to give quick relief to you feline friend. The first dose is usually bigger, and the dosage in then decreased. Still, it may be necessary to give steroids every other day – either as injections or orally.
If you are worried about the side effects of the steroids on your cat, you might consider washing your cat. As allergens can go through cat’s skin, washing the cat reduces the amount of allergens on its fur and skin, and this eases the itching. Because of this there may be less need of steroid medication.
Now cats do not usually enjoy washing (I say usually because there are cat breeds that absolutely love water – one Singapura breeder just told how one of their cats joins them in the shower and if you check the Abyssinian breed page, you will find fun photos of a little Aby girl swimming in the sea...), but once your cat makes the association that water eases the itching, bathing may become easier. You can use hypoallergenic / medical shampoos and rinses. You vet will certainly advice you on what to use.
Antihistamines can also be used in treating feline atopy – they are effective in controlling the over-eager immune system (especially in cases of pollen). They block the production of the histamines in the body. (It is the histamines that cause the extreme itch and skin disorders.)
Antihistamines have fewer side effects than steroids (although, as has been said before, cats tolerate steroids quite well). Vets often prescribe antihistamines in tandem with steroids. Still – not all cats respond to antihistamines.
It is possible to use desensitization which means allergy shots for the cat. The vet injects small amounts of the antigen to your cat, increasing the amount gradually in the hope of making the immune system used to the antigen. The extreme reactions should calm down with time.
Allergy shots are the most effective treatment for feline atopy
is something you should really consider when you are planning on adopting a cat). About 50% of the cats react very well to this treatment, 25% have a partial response, and 25% have only a little response or none at all. But if you think 75% of the cats benefit from this treatment, it is worth a try. Still, this is not a fast remedy – it takes some months for the results to show (usually at least two).
Usually allergy shots are used on older cats that have year-round allergy symptoms. Also the cat needs weekly shots up to several years even. But if your vet recommends these shots for your cat, follow the advice.
If desensitization treatment is used to treat feline atopy, steroids cannot be used simultaneously. So if you cat itches during allergy shot treatment, you cannot find instant relief with steroids, but should use other methods.
Feline atopy lasts all through the cat’s life, so you should use treatments or else the symptoms reappear.
There are other ways than medication to handle feline atopy as well (even acupuncture has been used).
For example, if your cat’s inhalant allergy is clearly seasonal, you could use an Elizabethan collar on your cat to stop it from scratching and biting itself. (Still, do have a heart and use medication if the itching clearly makes your cat very uncomfortable – using the collar is so uncomfortable for the cat) Also in these cases keeping your cat indoors during the allergy season helps – but do also remember to keep your windows and doors closed, and clean your clothes and shoes well so you don’t bring allergens indoors. And do not dry your clothes and linen outdoors during the pollen season.
Clean your home well. Use air filters and cleaners, also on your vacuum cleaner or else you just end up blowing the allergy-causing dust back into the air (preferably HEPA = High Efficiency Particulate Arresting).
Take special care to clean places that may gather moist like basements and drip trays in kitchens under fridges and freezers, not to mention bathrooms (shower curtains, possible puddles of water on the floor) – these are places that almost invite mold to form.
Also if you water your plants too eagerly, the standing water in flower pots are potential mold-factories. As many indoor plants can cause allergies in cats – and as they tend to eat them, even if they are poisonous – it might be good to get rid of such plants altogether. If you don’t have a heart to do so, then maybe you could consider small indoor glass “greenhouses” for your plants – they look quite lovely, and keep the cat away from the plants.
Mold is something that enjoys standing air, so when possible, open the windows and let the air move (unless it is the pollen season and your cat is allergic to pollen).
Also dust (which is basically formed of all sorts of particles from fabrics to skin flakes, dander and dust mites) is a cause for feline atopy.
And dust mites – they love feeding on skin flakes. They also enjoy moist conditions and fabrics. Clean the beds and fabrics thoroughly – also the cat’s bedding and carpets.
And changing your pillows and bedding from feather- or foam-filled ones to synthetic materials can be of great help as the cat usually loves to spend time in your bed. Take the habit of washing the beddings weekly to stop dust mites from having a ball.
And pay attention if the cat litter causes symptoms to your cat. Often ones that contain cedar or pine are the worst to cause respiratory problems in your cat. If it is necessary to change the brand, and you cat isn’t very happy about the change, change the litter slowly. Whenever you clean the litter box, add a little more of the new brand to the mix until all of it has been changed. If you just change it at once you may find you cat leaving you unpleasant surprises on the floor next to the litter box (or in much worse places).
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