Allergies in Cats (and a little in Dogs)

I was browsing Instagram and I saw this great post about cats and food allergies.

Not everyone has the funds to do allergy testing. When a cat comes in with facial excoriation because it’s been so itchy, I try to convince owners to try a diet trial. Despite what the labels say on the pet food store brands for limited ingredient pet foods, there is often cross-contamination from other protein sources. Each veterinarian has their go-to diet for diet trials, so ask your veterinarian which one they recommend. There are medications as well. I really advise against the use of a long-acting steroid shot, but a lot of the old-school veterinarians are still using it. It makes it difficult for me to advise owners when they come in asking for the ‘shot’ that made the skin better last time. Steroids in a long-acting form that are injected into the body and last three to four weeks aren’t good! For those who don’t know, depo-medrol is a long-acting steroid shot. For pet owners, if your pet has an adverse reaction, you can’t take that shot away. If you want a steroid option to get through the initial trials, there are oral steroids that won’t last as long, and therefore your pet can be taken off the medication if they have any issues with it. Remember, steroids are anti-inflammatory by being immunosuppressive. If you suppress the immune system, your pet can develop infection elsewhere in the body. Also, if your pet is a senior and has an underlying disease that you are not aware of yet, like a cancer brewing, steroids select for the resistant cells of cancer. What that means is the easy-to-kill cancer cells die off, leaving a population of cancer cells that have a higher resistance to chemotherapy. Then you are limited in your choices of chemotherapy drugs, having to use a cocktail of stronger drugs. Here I go digressing again!


Allergies in dogs are very common and I find I’m using Cytopoint or Apoquel to manage these itchy patients. But you need to take care of infection of the skin too! Otherwise, you end up in a viscous cycle. Dogs and cats can be allergic to the yeast that lives on the skin, but when the yeast organisms get through the skin barrier, it causes the immune system to react and that is what causes them to feel itchy. Medicated shampoos with 4% chlorhexidine antiseptic are good topical choices to treat yeast and bacteria on the skin. You might want to add a spray leave-in conditioner for dry skin. You also may need to shampoo or spot clean the problem areas daily, not just once a week.

Additional topical products I recommend are the Douxo Calm products. Shampoos work well for dogs, but very few cats like to be bathed! However, Douxo Calm comes in a mousse and serum that can be applied without the need to battle your cat in the tub or sink.

There is a labeled product for cats with allergies called Atopica. Again, it’s working to suppress the immune system but by a different mechanism than steroids. Make sure you’re getting baseline blood work prior to using any of these medications because this is a way to monitor for changes due to the meds. If you’re stuck, and you really want to get a diagnosis because you’re frustrated, try getting your cat (or dog) tested for allergies. Once you get the testing, then invest in the hyposensitization treatment. This is antigen specific for environmental allergens, which I’m finding is quite common in dogs, but can be seen in cats as well. The hyposensitization treatment comes in two forms: drops under the tongue or by injection under the skin. It’s very similar to the treatment for allergies in people (I’m not talking about anaphylaxis treatment here).


Finally, if you have gone through your family veterinarian and are still struggling with itchiness or skin issues in your cat or dog see if there is a veterinary dermatologist in your area that you can get referred to.



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