Q & A: Itchy problems

Q: Can cats develop allergies?

A: Allergies are a very common and frustrating cause of itching and scratching in cats, often ending up causing hair loss and serious damage to the skin, especially if left undiagnosed or untreated. This is a complex problem and a quick fix or outright cure is very often not feasible. It can become a long, expensive and frustrating problem to address, but here are some guidelines which may help:

Once the presence of fleas has been excluded (a vital step, yet not as easy as it may sound, since cats are especially apt at harbouring fleas without the owner being aware of it!), we then need to consider a fairly large number of other causes of itching before a diagnosis can be made. This process of elimination is best undertaken with the help of your veterinarian, and may involve some specialised tests including checks for parasites such as mites (mange); bacterial, viral and fungal infections (including ringworm, actually caused by a fungus); and a dietary trial to rule out a food allergy. Once all these have been eliminated, a diagnosis of feline non-flea-induced hypersensitivity dermatitis may be made. Additional tests are available (blood tests) which may help in identifying the specific allergen responsible for the itchy skin, which is of course the ideal way to treat and/or prevent all allergies.

Dr Phil Rees, veterinarian

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