Much like their canine cousins, cats can suffer from itchy, painful skin conditions caused by allergies. Here, our Rock Hill vets explain some causes of skin allergies in cats and how they can be treated. 

Cats With Skin Allergies

If your cat has allergies, it means that either it is hypersensitive to certain substances or that its immune system is overreacting. A substance that triggers an allergic response is known as an allergen. Some of the most prevalent allergens in people are food, pollen, dander, and mold.

An allergic reaction to a substance can lead to 3 general types of symptoms:

  • Skin -  Itching of the skin, either in a specific spot or more generalized all over your cat's body. These cat skin allergies can include a rash and/or scabs.
  • Respiratory - Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and other respiratory issues including discharge from the nose or eyes.
  • Gastrointestinal - The third manifestation involves the digestive system and can result in vomiting, flatulence, and/or diarrhea.

These different reactions are caused by different types of allergens; parasites that live in or on the cat's body, allergens that cause a reaction upon contact, allergens that are ingested, and allergens that are inhaled.

In today's blog, we look at different causes of skin allergies in cats, the associated symptoms, and how they can be treated.

Causes of Skin Allergies in Cats & How They Are Treated

When it comes to skin allergies, the allergen causing the condition will either be parasites, food allergies, or environmental allergies.

Contact Allergies

Some cats may develop contact allergies, which result in irritated skin patches wherever the allergen has made direct contact with the cat's body. Common contact allergens include, but are not limited to, flea collars, shampoos, and different materials used to make bedding. Even though determining the precise cause of your cat's allergy can be challenging, the effort is worthwhile because eliminating or simply avoiding the allergen will quickly and effectively alleviate your cat's symptoms.


Not all cats scratch nonstop after being bitten by a flea, despite popular belief. Usually, a flea bite is just a minor annoyance. However, even a single bite from a flea can result in a severe reaction with severe itching if your cat is allergic to the proteins or antigens in flea saliva. This frequently leads to your cat chewing or scratching at its skin, which removes a lot of hair in the process. You might notice open sores or scabs on your cat's skin, particularly at the base of his tail, if he is allergic to flea bites. From these sores, secondary bacterial skin infections may develop.

The best way to treat this allergy is to keep fleas well away from your pet. If your pet has fleas, speak to your vet about various flea control products and how to rid your cat of fleas. Corticosteroids (cortisone or steroids) can be prescribed by your vet to help block the allergic reaction and give your cat immediate relief from itchiness. Antibiotics may be required if your cat has a secondary skin infection due to scratching.

Food Allergies in Cats

Food allergies in cats are caused by an immune reaction to an ingredient or an additive in their food. Common food allergies for cats include chicken, turkey, and beef. Some vegetable proteins found in commercially produced cat foods may be problematic for some cats including corn and wheat, and for other cats, food additives and preservatives can lead to an allergic response. Food allergies can lead to itchy skin, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress.

For cats who may be allergic to certain foods, a hypoallergenic or elimination diet is frequently advised. These diets call for eliminating your cat's regular food and feeding them only foods they have never eaten before, like rabbit or venison. For these diets to work, they must be strictly adhered to. There won't be any table scraps or cat treats (unless they're allowed as part of the diet). Elimination diets must be followed for 9 to 12 weeks in order to give your cat's body enough time to flush out every last trace of the problematic ingredient and start the healing process.

Inhalant & Atopy Allergies

Inhalant and atopy allergies are those caused by environmental substances such as ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites, and pollutants such as cigarette smoke. Allergic reactions in cats can cause severe itching all over the body. It is common for cats with these allergies to be allergic to more than one substance, so determining the precise cause can take time. While these allergies are often seasonal, similar to hay fever in humans, itching may be present all year.

Treatment for these allergies largely depends on the severity of the allergy and whether it is seasonal. A hypoallergenic diet can help relieve symptoms and treatments can include:

  • Corticosteroids (prednisone)
  • Sprays and shampoos to improve the health of the skin
  • Antihistamines
  • Essential fatty acids/fish oils
  • Immunosuppressive drug therapy
  • Antigen injections/allergy shots

Ongoing Treatment for Cats with Skin Allergies

It's important to note that many of the treatments for skin allergies in cats take time to take effect and are not appropriate for sudden flare-ups. Your vet will provide you with treatments for acute symptoms and the long-term management of the condition.

Only avoiding contact with the allergen will effectively treat your cat's condition, even though treatment can help control and relieve your cat's symptoms. This means that while your cat may experience symptom-free times that last a long time, symptoms will probably return frequently. When allergic reactions occur, your veterinarian will be able to help you and your cat deal with them.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat is being tormented by an uncomfortable skin problem, contact our Rock Hill vets today to book an examination for your kitty.