Allergies in Cats: Hidden Triggers in Your Home
We are so used to hearing some of our fellow humans talk about their allergies towards cats, but we often neglect to think about elements within your cat’s environment that may trigger their own allergies.
Here, we answer some of the most common questions regarding allergies in cats. We discuss some unusual things that may trigger your cat’s allergies within the home and offer some steps you can take to help support your cat when they are experiencing allergies.
Do cats get allergies?
Yes! Just like most other mammals, cats can get allergies too.
When an allergen is present in your cat’s environment, its immune system goes into a sort of hyperdrive. Their body’s white blood cells produce a chemical called histamine with the goal of “fighting off” the allergen. This release leads to inflammation and irritation, much like it does when we humans are allergic to something.
How can you tell if your cat has allergies?
Cats can be enigmas sometimes. Many are fiercely independent, and they go about their day, seeking little time and attention from their humans. As an owner, it can be hard to tell what they are thinking or feeling, which makes it that much harder to notice when they may be struggling with allergies.
But, if you know what to look out for, you may be able to take action and support them through it. The following are common signs that your cat may have allergies:
- Sneezing, coughing, and wheezing
- Itchy, running eyes
- Red or dry skin
- Excessive licking (grooming)
- Swollen, sensitive paws
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Ear infections
What are cats allergic to?
There are four different categories of allergens for cats: Environmental, Food, Flea-related, and Seasonal.
Although not an exhaustive list of all potential allergens for your cat, we have outlined the most commonly seen elements within each major category. Among them, we offer suggestions on how you can investigate their triggers and ways to help support your cat when you discover their allergens.
Environmentally Triggered Allergies in Cats
These include everyday things your cat may come across inside your home or outside around the neighborhood.
The following are some of the more commonly seen and well-known allergens for cats:
The following are often less well-known, potentially hidden triggers in your home that many owners may not be aware of:
- Cigarette smoke
- This is incredibly toxic to cats.
- Cleaning products
- Any strong cleaning products that containing ammonia, bleach, formaldehyde, or phthalates can be toxic to cats.
- Perfumes & Air fresheners
- Essential oils, potpourri, scented sprays, and incense can induce asthma-like symptoms in cats when inhaled.
- If elements of these are ingested (when your cat licks oil off their fur or eats a piece of potpourri), they can be toxic and cause a gestational upset.
- Some cat litters
- Especially those that produce a lot of dust.
- Wool is a common culprit found in products like their cat bed, blankets, collar, and human furniture.
- Some plastics, latex, and rubber
- These materials can be found in things your cat touches every day, such as rugs, toys, silicone bowls, litter boxes, plastic crates, or beds.
How can I support my cat with environmental allergies?
Finding ways to support your cat with allergies often comes down to a lot of trial and error.
If the allergen is not initially obvious, it is important that you begin by making a few small changes within their environment and look out for any positive effects of these changes. If no difference is observed, it is time to change up something else in their environment.
Taking it step-by-step will allow you to rule out your cat’s triggers and determine what in their environment your cat is allergic to.
Regularly deep-clean your home to avoid a buildup of dust, dirt, and mold.
- Treat any areas of your home that show signs of mold and fungus growth.
Avoid bringing high-pollen-producing plants into your home (e.g., Orchids or Chrysanthemums).
- Instead, opt for plants that may act as natural humidifiers (e.g., Dracaena or small Palms and Bamboo).
Utilize air purifiers in rooms that your cat frequents the most.Try switching out their collar, cat litter, bedding, or other materials your cat often comes into contact with.
- Change them one by one so you can narrow down your search for the trigger material. Wait at least 1 week to see results before testing another.
Try using a low-dust litter and scoop at least once per day.
Try to avoid synthetic air fresheners in your home, especially around your cat’s litter box, bed, and bowls.
- Look for natural scent sprays that use ingredients like cinnamon, vanilla, lavender, or mint.
- Avoid citrus scents as these can irritate their noses further.
Try using more natural, cat-safe cleaning and laundry products around your home.
- Baking soda is a natural option that can help to absorb nasty smells. Mixed with white vinegar, it may also unclog drains and scrub out stains around the house.
- This Business Insider article was medically researched and provides some of the best cat-friendly cleaning products available in stores.
Bathe your cat and wash their bedding regularly to help clean off dirt and dust that may be hiding in their hair or on their beds.
- Try using hypoallergenic pet shampoos. Make sure the product you choose has been formulated and/or recommended by veterinarians to help verify their claims.
Cigarette smoke can be toxic to cats. Ensure your cat is kept away from smoke-filled areas and try to reduce smoke inside your home.
There may come a time when you simply cannot identify an environmental allergen. Or you find the trigger but cannot remove it from your cat’s environment altogether, like pollen and grass outside, or the carpets that cover the whole house that you cannot afford to replace right now.
If this is the case, then talk to your veterinarian about allergy supplements or shots that can be given to your cat. These are both designed to help support your cat’s immune system and maintain normal inflammatory responses when they are exposed to allergens.
Food triggered allergies in cats
There are a wide variety of foods to which your cat could be allergic, but the most common seen by veterinarians include:
- Dairy products
How can I support my cat with food allergies?
- Try switching their daily food and treats to ones containing fewer common allergens.
- There are several brands available that specifically target cats with food sensitivities. Talk to your veterinarian about the products they recommend for your cat’s unique needs.
- Ensure foods known to be toxic to cats are kept shut away, out of their sneaky reach.
- Examples include onions, garlic, chocolate, grapes, raisins, and avocado.
- Educate members of your household about toxic foods and ensure they are mindful of where they leave their snacks.
Flea-related triggered allergies in cats
Known as “Feline Flea Dermatitis," this category of allergies is one of the most commonly seen in cats, especially those that spend lots of time outside or cohabitate with other animals.
You may be surprised to find out that it is not actually the bite that causes a reaction, but the spit the fleas leave behind! When fleas bite an animal, they leave behind irritant saliva on the skin of the animal. Due to the irritating properties of this saliva, its presence stimulates your cat to release histamines and triggers allergy responses.
Allergic reactions to the saliva can spread throughout the entire body of your cat, not just centralized around the site of the bite.
Reactions are typically similar to those you see with other allergens; you will likely witness your cat intensely scratching and biting themselves. Additionally, the frequent self-grooming that cats perform means they may remove the actual fleas from their body before you or your vet can find evidence of what is causing the reaction. These elements can make it that much harder to distinguish from other triggers. Therefore it is important you talk to your veterinarian about flea prevention methods.
How can I support my cat with flea-related allergies?
Ensure your cat is on a regular flea and tick prevention method.
- Talk to your veterinarian about recommended medications or products.
- Some products or medications can cause irritant effects in some cats, so changing the brand you use may rule this out as a potential trigger.
If you suspect a flea infestation, have your cat professionally groomed with flea-removal products to remove both the live fleas and their larvae. Or visit your vet to find suitable solutions for eliminating the pests.
- Wash all bedding, blankets, and other materials your cat commonly touches on high heat to help kill any fleas or larvae that may be hiding. Seasonally triggered allergies in cats
How can I support my cat with seasonal allergies?
Increase your cleaning and dusting efforts around the house during the seasons your cat shows elevated allergic responses.
Increase the frequency you bathe your cat during these times, so help wash off any allergenic residue on their fur.
If possible, try limiting their time spent outside in high-pollinated areas.
Try using an air purifier in rooms your cat frequents the most.
Talk to your veterinarian about supplements or shots that may help support your cat's immune system and maintain normal inflammatory responses during their high allergy seasons.
Common sources of seasonal allergies in cats include: