A cat scratching her chin

Allergies in cats: does your cat have allergies?

As anyone who suffers from allergies will know, sneezing, sniffing, watery eyes and itchy skin can make life pretty miserable – and the same is true for our feline friends.

Let's take a look at the different allergies cats can suffer from, and how to treat them.

Allergies are often triggered when a cat’s immune system overreacts to a foreign substance, or allergen. There are 4 main types of allergen:

  • Food allergens
  • Parasites (usually fleas)
  • Inhalant (airborne) allergens
  • Contact allergens

Signs and symptoms of allergies in cats: 

Symptoms can vary depending on the type of allergy your cat is suffering from, but they usually include some (if not all) of these:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy or inflamed skin
  • Sore ears
  • Sickness
  • Diarrhoea

Flea allergies

How it works:

Flea saliva contains multiple allergens that can trigger an allergic reaction. Most cats are only mildly irritated by flea bites, but an allergic cat can have such a severe response that they scratch or chew at the bitten area until they’ve removed large chunks of hair and sometimes even skin, making themselves bleed.

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is the most common allergic condition in cats. It causes severe itching and is triggered by the flea saliva coming into contact with the cat’s skin.

How to treat it:

Once fleas have taken hold of your cat, and your home, they’re tricky blighters to eliminate. The best treatment is prevention. It’s vital to keep your cat protected against fleas throughout the year. 

Read more: How to get rid of fleas on cats

cat scratching head with pack paw

Food allergies

How it works:

Cats can develop food allergies at any time and without warning – even after eating the same product for years. Food allergies are estimated to be the second most common cause of allergic dermatitis in cats.

The foods most likely to cause allergies are eggs, wheat, fish, and beef.

How to treat it:

Once your vet pinpoints the exact cause of your cat's allergies, they'll recommend a suitable diet accordingly. 

Inhalant allergies

How it works:

Also known as atopic dermatitis/seasonal allergies, inhalant allergies often cause severe itching. Just like humans, cats can be sensitive to pollen, mould, mildew and dust mites. 

If the allergy is seasonal, your cat may only scratch for a few weeks at a time.

How to treat it:

Your vet may recommend anti-inflammatory medication, medicated shampoo or in some cases, a preventative vaccination.

Read more: Feline dermatitis: does my cat have eczema?

Contact allergies

How it works:

Contact allergies occur when your cat’s skin comes into contact with a substance they’re hypersensitive to, such as wool bedding or flea collars.

How to treat it:

Once you’ve pinpointed the cause of allergy, the reaction is easy to avoid – simply keep the allergen away from your cat and the itching will subside.

Need more info?

For expert advice and treatment on cat allergies, contact your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.