Scratch, Scratch, Scratch...

Author: Emily Burt, Nursing Team

July 21, 2011


Allergy season rolls around every spring like clockwork. Pollen, grasses, molds, and insect bites can make us feel miserable. They affect our feline friends as well, although cats manifest seasonal allergies in ways that are very different from how we experience "hay fever." Itchy skin and ears are the most common symptoms of allergy (atopy) in cats. Often, they will develop red and irritated skin from scratching, or even from the allergy itself. Some cats develop painful, large, raised, red lesions about their lips and in their mouths.

Flea saliva is horribly allergenic and can exacerbate seasonal allergies. Some of our patients experience an actual flea-specific allergy and pull patches of fur off, develop large scabs over their bodies, and are, in general, just miserable from their itchy skin. Of course, this is not true for all cats. Some cats can have very heavy flea burdens but show no signs of discomfort. Keep in mind that cats are experts at hiding illness. Additionally, even if your cat has absolutely no outdoor exposure they can become infested with fleas from other household pets (like other cats or dogs that do have outdoor access), hitchhiking fleas on our clothes and shoes, and these tiny disease-carrying parasites have no difficulty making their way through screen windows and doors.

Cats are excellent groomers and many cats who itch will have almost no signs of fleas on them although fleas are the source of the allergy. This is because cats often groom the flea off as soon as the cat feels the flea bite! To help identify fleas, place your cat on a white sheet or towel. Using a flea comb, gently comb your cat all over his or her body. Don't forget the chin and neck, the tail base, and the belly. Look for the fleas and the tiny black comma-shaped flea feces they leave behind in the comb and on the towel. Flea combing a cat will NOT significantly help rid a cat of fleas, however. We strongly recommend consulting with your veterinarian before using any flea control products on your cat or in their environment.

There are many solutions to seasonal allergy: immunotherapy (allergy "shots"), antihistamines, specially formulated diet trials, environmental modification, parasite control, and occasionally steroid therapy are some of the tools we use to help our feline patients battle allergic diseases.

Cat symptoms vary dramatically from individual to individual. If you see your cat scratching, identify any red scabs or bumps, or if your cat seems uncomfortable, is eating less, sleeping more, or even if you observe subtle signs of discomfort ("She just doesn't seem like herself.") please make an appointment with your veterinarian.