Dealing with feline atopy allergic skin disease

Does your cat pull out tufts of hair, groom excessively, have twitchy skin, hair loss, inflamed ears, or sore spots? Your animal may be suffering from atopy.


Does your cat pull out tufts of hair, groom excessively

, and have twitchy skin, hair loss, inflamed ears, or sore spots?  The animal may be suffering from atopy.   

Atopy is caused by microscopic particles that are inhaled. Allergies usually begin in cats over 1 year of age.  Rarely are animals born with allergies.  The older the animal gets, the more intense is its reaction to the allergen.  When an animal becomes frequently exposed to allergens they become sensitized and reach their threshold.  Many times, these allergies are seasonal. Grass and other plant pollens, dander, and house dust are common causes of allergies in cats.

Atopy may begin seasonally and progress to the point that the animal displays symptoms all year long.  In cats, symptoms of the disease are usually located on the face, along the back near the spine, and on the animal’s sides.  Rarely, atopy can be acquired through foods that are eaten or in contact with the skin.  

Adverse reaction on the skin occurs whether the source of the allergy is inhaled, eaten, or through contact with the skin or a bite.  Differing intensities of itching, patchy hair loss, dry or crusty skin, and red, sore spots are all indicators of allergies.  Cats usually do not show their allergic reactions with respiratory symptoms, as people often do.

Diagnosing atopy can be difficult because the symptoms of allergies are very similar.  Food allergies should be ruled out prior to treating atopy.  This can be done with an elimination diet to test for reaction to certain foods.

It is important that the veterinarian perform complete tests to determine what it is that the cat is actually allergic to.  Skin testing is most accurate when done in the cats’ off-season. This is because skin test reactions will not be interfered with by allergic reactions that are currently being experienced by the animal.  The cat will not be able to take injections or medications for quite sometime before the skin test to ensure an accurate result.  Specialists generally perform skin testing. Your veterinarian can refer you to an appropriate practice if this option is needed.

Blood testing can also detect the presence of antibodies of an allergy-type in the cat’s system.  Some veterinarians prefer skin testing because they feel it is more precise.  However, if the animal is taking medications that it cannot be without, blood testing is the best way to check for allergens.

Immunotherapy is another treatment for the allergens. The allergens your cat is allergic to are injected into him/her in increasing amounts.  The object of this therapy is to change the animal’s immune system and lessen the reaction to the allergen.  This is probably the safest way to treat atopy with the least amount of side effects.

Once atopy has been diagnosed, cortisone-type injections can also be used to treat the condition.  Because these injections are hormones, many side effects may be possible.  These include excessive thirst, lethargy, incontinence, excess appetite, and inflammation of the pancreas.  Generally, a cat that does well on this form of treatment is given an injection every three or four months.  However, injections normally take 6 – 12 months to begin working.  Many owners also learn to give their pets the injections at home.

If the cat shows an adverse reaction to steroid injections it may be treated with antihistamines.  The animal usually finds relief from itching and other symptoms with this treatment although it requires that the animal be given the dosage twice daily. Fatty-acid supplements may also be given.  These supplements work to upset the production of chemicals that cause irritation in the skin.  

The veterinarian may also have the pet owner gradually eliminate things from the pet’s home environment until the source of an allergy is found.  Special shampoos and bath rinses may also be prescribed to reduce the cat’s symptoms and restore comfort.  Pet owners whose cat has atopy can also use HEPA filters in air purifiers to minimize airborne allergens to decrease histamine production in the animal’s body. 

There are also natural ways to reduce symptoms in cats.  Using topical aloe vera gel will help to moisturize the skin and heal inflamed areas caused by scratching.  Vitamins can also be very helpful in controlling allergies and atopy.  Vitamin A decreases skin inflammation and dryness.  Bioflavonoids reduce the formation of free radicals to reduce inflammation of the skin. Vitamin C aids in the production of steroid adrenocortical hormones. These help the body control swelling and infections.  Vitamin E also helps suppress inflammation of the skin.  Pet owners must take caution not to give too much of a particular vitamin to their cat. Overdoses of vitamin A can make calcified joints.

Some people believe that Chinese herbs can also be beneficial to a cat with atopy.  Because most cats don’t find herbs palatable, they would have to be given in pill form.  A Holistic veterinarian can discuss this option with you.

There are both medical and holistic options out on the market for the treatment of atopy.  Consult your veterinarian for the proper treatment and use it as instructed.  The overall well being of your feline is the main focus of this article, so, do what is best for your pet.