Posted on: March 4th, 2016 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein

While watching the weather on the local news the other night, the weatherman mentioned the pollen counts for grasses and trees. And it’s only the beginning of March! So even though there may still be snow on the ground where you live (and we just had another dusting here last night), spring–and it’s associated allergy season–is coming. What does this mean to your cat? Allergies in cats are a very real problem, they just look a little different than allergies for you or me.

There are several differences in how allergens affect humans and cats. People have a lot of histamine-containing cells in our upper respiratory tract, so when we suffer allergies, we sneeze and have itchy eyes. Cats have fewer histamine-containing cells (which is why anti-histamines aren’t as effective in cats), and the ones they do have are located in their ears. When dust mites or pollens come in contact with a cat’s ears via grooming, this triggers inflammation, which results in itching and scratching.

What can I do to help my cat?
In the home:

  • Keep air filters clean and use HEPA filters, to minimize dust and pollens.
  • If your cat goes outdoors, wipe paws when s/he comes indoors, to minimize bringing in grass and other pollens or parasites.
  • Vacuum frequently to eliminate dust mites.
  • Dehumidifiers or air conditioning help control humidity and molds.
  • In a basement or poorly ventilated area, bare concrete floors with washable area rugs are better than carpeting that holds in moisture and molds.
  • If your cat suffers during pollen season spring and fall, keeping windows closed will help. If you want to air out your home, you may need to board your cat for the day.

If my cat goes outside:

  • If your skin-sensitive cat goes outdoors at all, if you’ve moved into a home that previously had pets, or if someone has indoor/outdoor cats or dogs, strict flea control all year is recommended. We often find few to no fleas on cats with severe flea-allergy, because the flea-allergic cat will lick fleas off so quickly. There is a chemical in the flea’s bite that can make your cat itch for hours after the flea is gone. Talk to your veterinarian about the best flea-control measures for cats in your area. Over-the-counter products you buy at the grocery store or pet store may use cheaper ingredients and may not be as safe for cats or people.

Other possible treatments:

  • For mild signs, Zyrtec/cetirizine or omega-3 fish oils may be helpful, although it is best to check with your veterinarian to make sure these are safe for your cat. If your cat has fish allergies, giving fish oil is not a good option (and flax seed oil is less well-absorbed by cats).
  • Chronic ear problems in cats maybe caused by allergies. If the problem is mild, talk to your veterinarian about a safe ear cleaner for your cat. But, if ear problems are ongoing, see your veterinarian for appropriate diagnostic testing and treatment. Treatment may include antibiotics, anti-parasitic medications, anti-inflammatory medications and hypoallergenic diets.
  • Sometimes over-grooming can be caused by stress. If you know of a recent stressful situation in your home (a move; loss of a family member), trying something like Feliway® to calm your cat may help. But, since more than 70% of cats who over-groom actually have allergies, if the skin problems continue, your veterinarian needs to look for causes other than stress.
  • Diet can compound allergy problems, so you may need to discuss a special diet for your cat.

After a long winter, most of us look forward to spring. But if your cat suffer severe allergies, you might be dreading it’s arrival. Try some of these suggestions to see if you and your cat can learn to look forward to the warm, sunny days ahead!