Six Years Ago

It began when the cute kitten who adopted us turned one year old or thereabouts. That summer she began licking the back of her legs obsessively until the fur disappeared in a long strip down her left thigh. She also failed to continue gaining weight at the same rate as her sister, who adopted us at the same time. We fretted, we kept a very close eye on her, but never really pursued the matter. In the course of about six weeks the episode passed and we attributed the spell to growing pains. In all other ways she ran around like every other feline pal we ever knew.

The next summer things escalated very seriously very quickly. At the time, we lived without air conditioning and that June through August brought with them higher than average temperatures, mid-eighties to low-nineties more days than not with high humidity. We were uncomfortable. The cats were uncomfortable. During this time the Calico began chewing on her feet constantly, opening up cuts then continuing to lick them causing infections. We scraped together cash to bring her to the vet who gave us antibiotics for the infections, a cone to try keeping her from licking her feet, and a cornucopia of possible explanations. The vet was young, having left veterinary college a few years earlier.

Our diminutive furry hated the cone so she threw it off frequently, so we bought a sturdier plastic cone from which she could not escape. Never having put a cat in a cone, we had no idea how often we should take her out of the cone, what to do about her truly depressed state while wearing the cone, or any of the causes as to why all this was happening. For her part, the cat felt that we were angry at her for some unfathomable reason and she felt dirty because she could no longer groom herself. She also developed a robust feline acne from constant exposure to the plastic of the cone.

We repeated this process one more time toward the end of the summer. Once again our uncertainty combining with the heat and the cat’s misery to make us anxious all the time, afraid that we would not cure the ailments or worse that we were the wrong people to care for our feline ward. We began talking to vets, to people we knew who knew cats, scouring the Internet which, at the time, did not have the same information about cat allergies as readily available, reaching for any shred of insight that might help. With the fall, the symptoms fell away but we were left shaken.

Four Years Ago

The experience of the previous year made us wary as we entered the summer of her third year. That year we happened to buy a large window unit air conditioner for our house. With the possibility of a milder summer and a more comfortable house, we hoped we might pass the season unscathed by the dramas of the previous year. We would be disappointed.

As predicted, the summer remained temperate throughout with very few days even reaching the upper eighties. We began to think that the travails of the previous year bore no relation to the time of year. Then in mid-July our Calico once again opened wounds on her paws, this time the rear left paw. We secured more antibiotic and once again put on the cone, though it was far less effective against her grooming a rear paw than a front. Additionally, this feline possessed the wiles of one far exceeding her age, so she worked out ways to lick and chew all her paws in spite of the cone. That notwithstanding, we left on the cone, having learned to remove it once a day or so in order for her to groom, which kept her moderately less depressed. However, she began throwing up into her cone, which made her entire head dirty and caked the inside of the cone if we happened not to be home when it happened. Once again, we were miserable and doubted our ability to care properly for her.

Toward the end of the summer I reached out to the owner of the shelter where our cats chose to come home with us. A long time cat enthusiast and truly an oracle of feline knowledge, I described the events of the past two years and the symptoms. This cat-whisperer first noticed, or rather confirmed, the linkage between the time of year and the cat’s problems. She is the first one who suggested that our friend might have allergies, though to what she had no clue.

So in collaboration with our cat-whisperer, we began to experiment. We started by changing to a more meat-centric dry food. The increased oils in the food made the feline acne around the cat’s mouth explode, so after only a few weeks we returned her to her previous diet of a popular, more grain-centric dry food. Her sister, the grey tabby, cared not either way. She ate whatever found its way into the stainless bowl. However, now armed with the knowledge that the affliction could be an allergy, we began targeted searches on the Internet and found a few sites that discussed feline allergies and their causes. We eliminated food, fleas, mold, chemical, and all allergens other than pollen. We have no plants in the house, so we figured that was out as well. We began looking closely at the daily pollen counts, comparing them to when the cat was biting herself and her eyes were watery. We finally and for the first time arrived at a theory: ragweed allergy.

Several things happened the following summer that improved our situation a great deal. First, we invested in a new HVAC system that included a MERV-8 air filter. This air conditioning system removes all but the smallest particulates from the air. Second, in our research the previous summer we learned that cats could take certain antihistamines to help combat the effects of allergies on their systems. In consultation with our vet, we determined the appropriate dosage for this feline and begin including it in her morning and evening meals, the little portions of wet food we give them with the oils and proteins to help keep them healthy. This helped her cope with all but the heaviest ragweed pollen days.

Third, after her symptoms did return later in the summer, when we brought the cat to the vet we asked to speak to one of the more senior members of staff, someone who had been in practice for more than ten years. She listened to our history and agreed that it was an allergy of some kind. In addition to previously advising us regarding the antihistamines, she suggested that we include a pain killer in the cat’s diet rather than trying to keep the cat in a cone. The pain killer would effectively stop her from feeling the irritation in her paws for several hours and she would avoid the depression and feline acne that accompanied using the cone.

Two Years Ago

The experience of the previous four years along with the improved HVAC system helped significantly as we entered the fur ball’s fifth year. We started her early on an escalating regimen of antihistamines, lower doses early in the summer with higher doses as we went along, but never over the maximum. We kept the house closed, except for entering and leaving, and the air conditioning running, the filters rotated frequently to keep them clean. The stress levels for all parties concerned remained low as we more calmly made it through May, June, July, and August without an incident. If not for an unusually hot start to September along with high ragweed pollen counts, we might have passed the summer without incident. As it happened, we endured one paw infection that required just over two weeks to medicate and resolve.

This summer, knock wood, has passed without any issues thus far. We are much more confident in our antihistamine regimen, and it has been the humans who experienced the health issues rather than the felines. We continue to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Perhaps this will be the year.