Four common types of allergies in cats include food allergy, flea allergy, contact allergy, and atopic dermatitis. Allergies in cats are frequent health conditions. A cat allergy occurs when the immune system misidentifies an otherwise harmless substance as hazardous and mobilizes the body’s defense mechanisms to attack the substance (known as an allergen).  

A cat allergic reaction manifests with gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting and diarrhea, and skin problems, such as itchiness, sores, and hair loss. Allergies in cats cause secondary skin infections and respiratory distress, such as coughing, wheezing, and sneezing. 

Diagnosing allergies in cats is challenging, and one cat is able to suffer from different allergy types at the same time. The cat allergy treatment depends on the allergy type and requires close collaboration with a veterinarian and dedication from the owner to remove the trigger. 

1. Food Allergy

Food allergy in cats is defined as a “non-seasonal disease with skin and gastrointestinal disorders” by a 2006 study published in the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 

Food allergies in cats occur when the immune system mistakes a food ingredient, typically protein, as a threat. The cat’s immune system recognizes a protein as dangerous when it has previously been exposed to it. 

Cat allergic reactions to food are infrequent. “It is estimated that just 1% of all cats have food allergies and up to 15% of itchy cats,” according to PetMD.

Cats are usually allergic to “beef, lamb, milk, fish, tinned food, and dried food,” according to the paper “Food Hypersensitivity in the Cat,” 2009.  Cat allergy is often caused by beef or dairy products, according to BMC Veterinary Research in “Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.”

Food allergies in cats manifest with gastrointestinal distress, such as vomiting and diarrhea, or skin issues, such as itchiness, overgrooming, secondary skin infection, and self-inflicted wounds and sores due to excessive scratching. 

2. Flea Allergy

Flea allergy (flea allergy dermatitis, or FAD) is hypersensitivity to proteins found in flea saliva. Fleas inject a small amount of saliva into the skin when they are preparing to bite a cat. 

A cat allergic reaction occurs every time a flea bites a sensitive cat. “Cats with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) do not have to be infested with fleas; a single flea is enough to cause a problem,” VCA Hospitals says.

Flea-allergic dermatitis is a prevalent type of cat allergy. “Around 2 percent of cats are allergic to flea saliva, with no specific breed predispositions known at this time,” according to Great Pet Care. 

Flea allergies in cats manifest with itchiness and a unique skin rash. The flea allergy rash is bumpy and feels like grit under the cat’s coat. Areas predisposed to rashes are the head, neck, abdomen, back legs, and tail base. 

A cat with FAD scratches, licks, and bites its skin constantly, resulting in red skin patches, hair loss, or, in more severe cases, a skin infection known as eosinophilic dermatitis. 

3. Contact Allergy

Contact allergy or contact allergic dermatitis is a skin reaction caused by repeated contact with a chemical that results in skin sensitization and triggers an allergic reaction. Contact allergy is the least common type of cat allergic reaction. 

A contact cat allergy develops at contact points of the cat’s body, including the nose, chin, feet, abdomen, and groin. 

Contact allergy in cats is caused by insecticides (found in flea powders and collars), litter additives, iodine-based shampoos, plants (poison ivy, sumac, poison oak), plastic or rubber (cat food or water bowls), natural or synthetic materials (leather, wool, artificial fibers), dyes, mulch, and fertilizers.  

Contact allergies in cats manifest with red, itchy bumps on the skin, skin inflammation, scaling, and patchy hair loss. 

The contact allergic reaction evolves unless treated, causing skin sores and a rash that spreads beyond the initial contact point. 

4. Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a specific type of cat allergic reaction to substances found in the environment, such as pollen, dust, grass, molds, and mites. 

Cats with atopic dermatitis develop a hypersensitive reaction when they inhale or come into direct contact with the allergen. 

Feline atopy causes “various skin conditions and respiratory diseases,” as explained in a study “Feline Atopic Dermatitis: Clinical Signs and Diagnosis,” published in Companion Animal Practice in 2009.

Feline atopic dermatitis is very rare. Cats with feline atopic dermatitis typically have other skin issues or another type of cat allergy. 

Veterinary Dermatology published a paper, “Feline Atopic Dermatitis: A Retrospective Study of 45 Cases (2001-2012)” in 2014. The study found that 16% of the cats have concurrent otitis externa (external ear infection), 49% have superficial bacterial pyoderma, 7% have Malassezia dermatitis, 24% have flea-bite hypersensitivity, and 13% have adverse food reactions.

Feline atopic dermatitis is frequent in particular purebred cats, including the Abyssinian and Devon Rex. AD cat allergies are classified as seasonal or non-seasonal based on the allergen’s presence in the environment. 

How do Allergies Affect Cats?

Allergies affect cats by provoking the immune system, manifesting in itchy skin, digestive issues, and respiratory distress. 

Cats scratch the affected skin, lick their paws, rub their faces, cough, sneeze, and wheeze, and have runny and itchy eyes.

Red, dry skin, fur loss, and frequent skin and ear infections are other typical signs of allergies in cats. Cats allergic to certain food ingredients typically develop vomiting and diarrhea; however, general skin itchiness is possible, too.  

The effects of allergies in cats vary from disruptive to destructive. The disruptive effect is when an itchy cat wakes up to scratch. The destructive effect is when the continuous itching damages the cat’s skin barrier and develops a secondary yeast infection. 

Allergies affect cats by making them stressed. Cats get anxious trying to cope with allergy symptoms, especially if not properly managed. 

Can Cats Have Allergies?

Yes, cats can have allergies. A cat allergic reaction develops when the cat’s immune system misidentifies a specific substance as dangerous and overreacts to its presence. Substances with the potential to cause allergies are called allergens.   

Allergies are widespread in cats. A study, “Feline Dermatology at Cornell University: 1407 Cases (1988–2003),” found that “allergies account for 32.7% of feline dermatoses.” 

The four main types of allergies in cats are flea allergies, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, and contact allergies. 

The different types of allergic reactions in cats are similar in clinical manifestation but have various onset mechanisms and require separate treatments. 

“Feline allergic disease presents unique challenges,” according to “Cutaneous Hypersensitivity Dermatoses in the Feline Patient: A Review of Allergic Skin Disease in Cats,” 2017.

Cat allergies are difficult to diagnose and manage. Two different allergy types are able to coexist in the same cat making the condition challenging. 

25% of cats with food allergies suffer from environmental or flea allergies as well, according to the findings in a paper titled “Food Allergy in Dogs and Cats: A Review.”  

Do Allergies in Cats Go Away without Treatment?

No, allergies in cats do not go away without treatment. The symptoms subside and flare up depending on the allergy type and whether the allergic reaction has a seasonal component. 

Cat allergy treatment does not cure the allergy. The treatment manages the allergy and minimizes the impact of the symptoms.

Changes in grooming habits, such as bathing and brushing, avoiding allergens, and using certain pet supplements like salmon oil and CBD oil, help manage allergies without mainstream treatments but are insufficient to control cat allergic reactions in severe cases. 

What are Food Contents Allergic to Cats?

The food contents cats are allergic to are listed below. 

  • Chicken: Chicken is a common food ingredient with the potential to cause allergies. Chicken contains nutritional proteins, and the cat’s immune system is likely to mistake them for a threat. 
  • Beef: Beef is another cause of allergies in cats. Beef is rich in amino acids and vitamins and is a potent food allergen, especially when fed long-term. 
  • Fish: Fish and seafood are high in histamine, associated with and responsible for allergic reactions in cats. 
  • Dairy: Dairy is more likely to cause intolerances in cats rather than genuine allergic reactions. Adult cats are often lactose (milk sugar) intolerant, and eating dairy products makes them develop allergy-like symptoms. 

How to Prevent Your Cat’s Allergy?

The instructions on how to prevent your cat’s allergy are listed below. 

  1. Limit Allergen Exposure. Limiting or minimizing the cat’s allergen exposure helps control allergic reactions, especially in the case of seasonal cat allergies. Keep the doors and windows closed during pollen season, and do not let the cat outside. Clean the cat with wipes when it goes outside. Always buy dust-free, unscented cat litter. Do not smoke around the cat, and avoid using scented candles or strong perfumes. 
  2. Clean the House Regularly. A clean house reduces the amount of allergens in the house. Vacuum and dust the house frequently and use air purifiers. Washing the cat’s toys, blankets, and bedding a couple of times per month is helpful, too. 
  3. Use Flea Preventatives. Maintain an anti-flea schedule for the cat to avoid infestations and flea allergy dermatitis outbursts. The different anti-flea products for cats are collars, spot-ons, and chewables. Ask the vet for help determining which option is best and how often it needs to be updated. 
  4. Feed a Hypoallergenic Diet. Feed the cat a hypoallergenic diet or a cat food formula free from the offending protein to prevent allergic reactions. Ensure cat treats and supplements are allergen-free, too. 
  5. Give Skin Health Supplements. Regular skin supplements containing fish and CBD oil help with cat allergies. Fish oil strengthens the skin barrier, preventing allergens from penetrating, while CBD works on various levels, from allergy prevention to symptom control. 

What are Treatments for Cat’s Allergy?

The treatments for cat allergy are listed below. 

  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids, such as prednisolone or methylprednisolone, block allergic reactions, resulting in quick and significant symptom improvement. Corticosteroids increase health risks in cats when used for long periods. Health risks of corticosteroids include obesity, diabetes, urinary tract infections, and muscle weakness when used long-term. Corticosteroids for cats are used in extreme allergy cases. Corticosteroids are administered orally, by injection, or applied topically.  
  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines, such as chlorpheniramine maleate and fexofenadine are used to treat cat allergies. The effectiveness of antihistamines for cat allergies depends on the allergy. Antihistamines are ineffective for sudden allergic flare-ups because they need between seven and ten days to start working and are usually combined with other treatment approaches. 
  • Immunosuppressive Drugs: Immunosuppressive drug therapy (cyclosporine) is recommended for cats with atopic dermatitis. The medications reduce hypersensitivity by targeting the cells involved in the allergic reaction. Cyclosporine needs one month to achieve maximum effect, but once it starts working, it is very effective. 
  • Desensitization: Desensitization focuses on reprogramming the immune system while building resistance using allergy shots. The injections contain tiny amounts of allergens and are administered over an extended period to build resistance slowly. Allergy shots are ideal for cats with chronic seasonal allergies with known allergens.
  • Flea Control Treatment: The treatment for cats with flea allergy dermatitis is getting rid of the fleas. Flea control products include collars, topicals, and edibles, some of which are available over the counter while others require a veterinary prescription. “Therapy, Control, and Prevention of Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats,” states that flea eradication is “essential for effective treatment.”
  • Hypoallergenic Cat Foods: Hypoallergenic cat food is the best treatment for cats sensitive to food ingredients. Pet food brands offer hypoallergenic formulas. Cat foods that are not hypoallergenic but free from the offending protein are helpful, too. Medicated Shampoos and Wipes: Medicated shampoos relieve itching and are perfect for allergic cats with secondary skin complications. Regular shampoos and pet wipes are an excellent way of removing allergens in cats with contact sensitivities. 
  • Natural Remedies and Supplements: Coconut oil and CBD oil are naturally soothing and provide relief when applied directly to itchy skin. Fish oil and CBD oil, given orally and daily, help control allergic reactions and reduce the severity of allergy symptoms.    

How can CBD Oil Help Treat Allergies in Cats?

CBD oil helps treat allergies in cats through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

The immune system and the endocannabinoid system are closely related, and Campora L. and associate researchers showed that cannabinoids and the ECS “protect against effects of allergic inflammatory disorders in various species of mammals.”

The ECS is the same in all mammals, and while there are not many studies regarding cats specifically, results from human and canine papers are assumed to be applicable to felines, too. 

CBD oil for cat allergy treatment helps modulate the immune system. The immune system is the main cause of allergic reactions. 

CBD’s ability to modify the immune system is confirmed in a 2021 study, “Effect of Cannabidiol (CBD) on Canine Inflammatory Response: An Ex Vivo Study on LPS Stimulated Whole Blood,” published in Veterinary Sciences. 

Cannabinoids have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Managing inflammation is essential in treating cat allergies because inflammation is the body’s natural response to the presence of allergens. 

“Cannabidiol (CBD) exhibits anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties,” according to “Antioxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Cannabidiol” 2019.

CBD oil for cats reduces intense itchiness. Itchiness manifests with constant scratching, causes secondary skin problems, and is the obvious sign of cat allergies. 

Veterinary Dermatology concluded that CBD reduces itchiness in a dog study titled “The Effect of a Mixed Cannabidiol and Cannabidiolic Acid-Based Oil on Client-Owned Dogs with Atopic Dermatitis.” 

The healing properties of CBD oil for cats with allergies are diverse and include anxiety relief (common in cats with severe and unmanaged allergy symptoms) and skin health support. 

CBD was found to enhance the production of fat molecules that hydrate and protect the skin in a human study, “Cannabinoids in Dermatology: A Scoping Review,” 2018.

Does Cat Depression Trigger Allergies?

No, cat depression does not trigger allergies. Evidence suggests that depression and long-term stress harm the immune system, which has the potential to worsen allergy symptoms; however, depression is not a direct cause of allergies. 

Allergies, on the other hand, trigger cat depression and anxiety. The symptoms of allergies in cats are uncomfortable and lead to low mood and stress if left untreated. 

Appetite loss, altered sleep-wake cycles, disinterest in daily activities, poor grooming, litter box accidents, vocalization, excess scratching, and behavior changes are signs of cat depression

Are Cats Allergic to Flowers?

Yes, cats are allergic to flowers. Many common blooms, such as tulips, peonies, and daffodils, are harmful if ingested, and lilies must always be kept away from cats. 

Common flowers toxic to cats are lilies, daffodils, daisies, baby’s breath, tulips, hyacinths, sago palms, oleanders, cyclamens, kalanchoes, dieffenbachias, autumn crocus, rhododendrons, and azaleas. 

Flower intoxication or poisoning is not the only plant-related hazard for cats. Flowers, especially those that release airborne pollen, trigger allergic reactions. 

Flower allergies in cats occur in the form of seasonal allergies. Cats develop allergy symptoms when the pollen particles are inhaled or absorbed into the skin after direct contact. 

Do Dogs Have Similar Types of Allergies as Cats?

Yes, dogs have similar types of allergies as cats. Dog allergies are typically caused by fleas, food ingredients, environmental allergens (atopic dermatitis), and direct contact with allergens. 

Dog allergies are prevalent in certain breeds such as Retrievers, Bulldogs, Terriers, Chinese Shar-Peis, Shih Tzus, and Lhasa Apsos; however, according to VCA Hospitals, they are quite common in dogs of all breeds and backgrounds.”

The telltale signs of dog allergies are itching, digestive problems, and respiratory distress. The treatment depends on the allergy type and includes dietary modifications, dog shampoos, anti-inflammatory therapy, and hyposensitization or desensitization.