A simple web search will yield some very good sites that document the causes of feline allergies and their symptoms. The following comes from the Pet Health Network site, and though it is sponsored by a pet pharmaceutical company, it provides a fairly succinct description of feline allergies.
Because there is such a wide variety of allergens, cat allergies are generally divided into 3 main categories: flea allergy, environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis), and food allergy. Flea allergy and environmental allergies – the ones that cause “hay fever” symptoms in humans – are the most common. However, cats often have multiple allergies, so a thorough examination by your veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist is recommended.
Allergic kitties are often very itchy and have skin problems associated with allergic dermatitis. They also might exhibit some of these symptoms:
- Sneezing, coughing, and wheezing – especially if the cat has asthma
- Itchy, runny eyes
- Ear infections
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
- Paw chewing or swollen, sensitive paws
There are a variety of allergens that cause these symptoms:
- Pollen, grass, plants, mold, mildew, and other organic substances
- Perfumes and colognes
- Fleas or flea-control products
- Household cleaning products
- Prescription drugs
- Some cat litters
There is also some good information on the PetMD and Blue Buffalo sites.
While these sites describe well the physiological causes and symptoms of cats with allergies, they do not really explore the warning signs, the changes in behavior and physical changes that would lead a cat’s biped friend to suss out the cause of four-legged discomfort. What follows is a non-inclusive list of the changes I have learned about and/or seen in my furry quadruped’s life as we came to understand her allergies. If you notice these kinds of changes (or really any significant alteration from their daily routines), you know you need to start examining your cat companion much more closely.
Most cats are fastidious animals. They clean themselves regularly, generally a couple of times a day, often after they eat. They keep their coats soft and pliable with no discernible odor . Again, this holds true for most cats, though some long-haired breeds may be exceptions.
When they don’t feel well, many cats stop grooming. After a day or two, their coats become more matted and they take on a musty smell.
In our case, the cat chews her paw pads because they itch her so badly. This chewing, in turn, opens up cuts and abrasions on the pads that eventually become infected. The infected paw then begins to give off a sickly sweet odor that gets stronger as the infection becomes more entrenched in the pad.
Anyone who lives with a feline friend for any length of time knows that they show their love in their own ways when they choose. Most of us human folk find this quality endearing. Like all sentient beings, cats seek out comfort and safety when they become ill or in some way feel off. Being near (or on) their chosen human makes them feel better, so they may spend most of their time close by (or even very close by) calling attention to themselves by scenting a leg or trying to lie on the biped’s face and purring loudly. They may become more agitated than usual if their primary food providers leave to say, go to work to earn money to buy cat food. Once upset, cats may show their displeasure in their own inimitable ways (think pee in shoes or other places).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some felines compulsively lick themselves trying to alleviate their itching. Many will lick the backs of their rear legs raw, removing the hair in long swaths leaving skin exposed. Some, like the Calico living with us, bites and licks her paws until they bleed then will not leave them alone. When we see that she keeps licking a specific foot multiple times during the day, we know we need to investigate further. Also, the additional fur they ingest along with any discharge from infection combine to induce cats to regurgitate more frequently.
Cats will also vomit more if they are allergic to specific foods or ingredients in their food.
Like their human counterparts, cats may also experience watery or runny eyes. This takes the form of a slight discharge that discolors the corners of their eyes by their nose. And like their humans, cats will rub their eyes to try to keep them clean and alleviate the itching. Generally, the worse the discharge, the more allergen they are trying to fend away.