Cats With Allergies Becoming More Common

By Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Jo cat with an allergy
Pictures by Ruth aka Kattaddorra
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There are many things that affect cats in our modern world, more traffic for example which means that in busy places it’s dangerous for cats outside.

But there are also dangers inside too and because of products we use, cats with allergies are becoming more common.

One of our cats Jozef, started a sneezing type of cough in January which got worse and although we were booked in to see the vet later in the day we took him in as an emergency earlier when he coughed non-stop. We thought he had something stuck in his throat.

The vet examined him and found nothing wrong but booked him in for the following day for an anaesthetic to X-ray him and look more deeply down his throat (see also this page on anesthesia and cats). She took blood for all the tests they can do and gave him an antibiotic/steroid injection. Later she phoned to say all his tests had come back clear.

Next morning he was better but she had emphasised that it was important he went in for the day. They found nothing wrong at all but a tiny red patch in his throat and he had a course of antibiotic tablets which put that right.

In July when the weather was very hot he started his sneezy cough again, also scratching at his head a lot. We comb him twice daily as he is prone to hairballs so we knew he had no fleas.

We saw another vet, the first one had left, this one found nothing wrong and gave him nothing, it was almost as if she thought we were making his symptoms up. We saw a different vet when it got worse, he found nothing either but gave us Metacam for Jo. Well after reading what it was really for and the side effects we didn’t feel happy about giving him that.

It was almost as if Jo was allergic to his own fur because after he washed, he coughed and his hairball problem was much worse. So we saw another vet, thankfully this one listened to us carefully and believed us and after she had thoroughly examined Jo and found nothing wrong apart from a bit of a red throat caused by coughing up hair, she said she thought it was an allergy.

Apparently it’s very difficult to pinpoint what cats are allergic to, there are hundreds of things it could be, indoors and outdoors too. His bout in January must have been something in our house, although we are very careful to use only eco friendly cleaning products and never when our cats are around, we don’t wear perfume or use air fresheners, we will never know what caused that bout.

Many cats are allergic to certain foods too, it’s a long process trying to eliminate everything causing their allergies and almost impossible anyway as it could be more than one thing.

But Jozef’s this time was probably something outside, a certain type of grass, pollen, trees, something in the air, the list is endless. So our vet said they can only treat the cat’s symptoms and hope it clears up their allergy and that the cat becomes desensitised so it doesn’t return. She is a very English vet who understands the importance of cats needing to go out to have good quality of life, if it’s at all possible. She told us that the night before she had been up at midnight helping a neighbour get their cat out of a tree. It’s nice she loves cats as much as we do.

She said:

‘Of course if this medication doesn’t help we will have to do some x rays and tests under anaesthetic’

‘Er hello, he had those in January!’

‘Oh sorry, me bad, I hadn’t realised’

She then looked back in his records.

So now we know what we suspected all along, the tests more or less pushed on us then were far too premature, the treatment should have been tried first before putting him (and us) through all that trauma, not to mention expense. That vet had left the practise shortly after, she was obviously one who felt she had to meet her target, which we found out since that vets are expected to do, by some employers. Thankfully, some refuse to do that.

Now we are glad he did have those tests because we knew there was nothing serious lurking but as this treatment is working he wouldn’t have had to go through them at all.

He’s much better and off the antibiotics and down to half a steroid tablet every second day then it will go down to every third day and so on until he’s off them altogether. They have to be tapered off, not just stopped suddenly. Hopefully his allergy won’t return, he’s a nightmare to take to the vets and a nightmare to give tablets to also.

The moral of this story is to always question if invasive and expensive tests are really necessary without trying the treatment first! Always persist, don’t be brushed off, we know our own cats best and we know when something is wrong. Seek a second opinion…..and even a third …..We have lost two much loved cats in the past because of vets unable to diagnose their problem in time and which was why we changed our vets practise to the one we use now and thankfully at last we’ve found a good vet there who we can trust.

22 thoughts on “Cats With Allergies Becoming More Common”

  1. What a bonny cat Bigfoot is, he looks meant for cuddling! It’s a strange side effect of steroids that lethargy and leaking, I’ve always thought steroids gave you a boost, I remember when I was given a course for a skin problem I felt as though I had tons of energy, and of course they do make you eat and drink more, which they did to Jo. There must be umpteen million substances that cats can be allergic to, I don’t see how we can ever know a cause, we can just treat the symptoms with the least possible medication.

    • You are right Barbara. The steroids did give Bigfoot a boost. He wanted to go out more and they make him hungry and thirsty. It was after a long time on the bed I think that caused the problem. I just don’t know what else to think.

      Another thing to note, Michael, as you are researching….the second or third time around, I assumed the allergies would subside on their own when the allergen that was affecting him went away, as they always do as the weather changes. Big mistake on my part. What happens is, with the constant scratching, chewing and hair just gets worst over time and almost becomes a secondary problem that will not go away on its own. If I let Bigfoot’s immune system fight the allergy on its own, he may have started getting hot spots and bald spots.

      He did get a secondary sort of symptom this last time, where he was literally stroking himself along the side of his body in the same place. But not chewing. The lady vet suggested something had changed in his life, or something else unusual going on. It made me tear up because just a few months ago, we lost our girl Daisy. Bigfoot was the cat that taught Daisy how to be with cats. Daisy would always spend time upstairs in Bigfoots room when they were home alone (which was never for more than a few hours at a time). Now Bigfoot is completely alone in the house when we are gone. Once I understood that could be a problem, I made it my business to focus on him for many hours of each day. Even if he was asleep I would cuddle with him. Wake him up, force him to be social. It seems to have worked. The stroking has stopped.

      • Cats are so hard to diagnose they’re such complex creatures and they hide things from us as well, so sorry to hear the way Bigfoot’s bereavement affected him. It’s said that it’s supposed to keep us calm and keep our BP down having cats, but it seems to me that from the minute you get a cat it’s a constant worry about them, are they well/safe are they eating enough/too much, are they happy/fulfilled, I think the stress level of properly caring for a cat is sky high! And no, Jo still hates me and looks at me as though I’m a monster for giving him his tablet and today is a day one is due at 6pm this evening 🙁 but it’s better than Ruth doing it because then he might not go to bed with her as he likes to do.

      • Thanks dw. I’ll bear that in mind. Allergies are a monster to fix. They are very uncomfortable for the cat and worrying for the cat’s human companion. And no clear cut answers. Sometimes I wonder whether general drugs like steroids are a good thing.

        • I searched the internet but found nothing helpful, there are lots of pages about people being allergic to cats but not many about cats suffering from allergies and the ones I did find were all about cats having food allergies.

          • Yes, “allergies” and “cats” usually means people being allergic to cats because Google is not very sophisticated and it is a refection of the importance of people over cats.

            I can well understand your conclusion. I’ll have a go myself this evening. No promises!

            • Thank you 🙂 I hope you find something helpful for Jozef and Bigfoot and any other cats with allergies, it seems to be a little known topic.

        • I think stress makes cats (and us) easier targets for OCD and allergies by lowering our fighting spirit.
          But there has to be something to trigger an allergy.
          I have had hay fever since a trip to Cornwall over 30 years ago, where it was very hot. Living here in the North East where it never was that hot in those days, I wasn’t used to it and it was a stressful time there too, I’ve needed to take anti histamines in hot weather since then.
          We and animals too are all victims of our modern times.
          I would hazard a guess that cats with allergies have become more common as the years go by.

            • Thank you uncle Marc, I am much better now, I haven’t coughed or scratched at myself or brought up any hairballs or stray hairs either.
              I hate going to the vets and hate taking the tablets but the mammies say it’s called ‘being cruel to be kind’
              I lost a little bit of weight with my troubles so I have to eat well and our Walter says he is supposed to be losing a bit of weight so could we do a swap.
              But he wouldn’t want allergies as they are a pest to cats.
              I hope your cats are well.
              Jozef xx

        • Yes Michael, I do believe that is what happened to Bigfoot. I didn’t even consider the possibility and I think it was thoughtless on my part. Of course Bigfoot would be stressed that Daisy was no longer around. Daisy, our 90 lb dog, was assisted in her passing by our vet, who came here to our home, Daisy on her own bed in the living room. (I so appreciate vet’s who are willing to do house visits for this purpose.) Bigfoot never came downstairs, though Marvin was privy to what was happening. Marvin didn’t seem to suffer Daisy’s passing like Bigfoot did. Marvin and Daisy were very close as you know. Once I realized what was causing Bigfoot’s OCD like behavior, I helped him through love and understanding. He seems to be fine now.

          • DW, I have this feeling that people, in general (not you), don’t understand how sensitive and emotional the domestic cat can be. Humans are still struggling with understanding other animals. We are so crude sometimes (not PoCers!).

  2. I believe that cat allergies to food or airborne allergens is a very important subject. Thanks Ruth for writing about it with reference to Jozef which highlights how tricky an illness it is.

    Some vets seem to be baffled by it. Dorothy’s Bigfoot had similar problems to Jozef and the vet appears to have struggled in a similar way.

    I have a gut feeling allergies in cats is a bigger health problem than people give credit for. As you say Ruth there are so many possible substances that could cause an allergic reaction and all of them are human products.

    Also the symptoms are rather vague or similar to infections and other common illnesses, which makes diagnosis difficult.

    It seems that the veterinary profession needs to do more work on this tricky health problem.

    I like your persistence in searching for the best treatment and protecting Jozef from drugs that he might not need.

  3. Bigfoot is so handsome, what a lovely photo.
    That’s very interesting Dorothy, I wondered if anyone else’s cats had an allergy too. I’ve not heard of that side effect of steroids before.
    Poor Bigfoot, vets diet foods are always bland stuff and a big part of a cat’s life is enjoying their food isn’t it!
    Our vet said if Jo’s allergy returns when his tablets have finished or in the future at any time he could have another course of steroids, but she likes to keep cats on the lowest dose possible, we are hoping he doesn’t need them but time will tell.
    He’s never been ill or at all bothered by his coughing bouts, he just carried on normally after one, but his hairball problem was worse and now he’s not even had a hairball since he started this treatment.
    It really was as if he was allergic to his own fur!

  4. I hope Jo is feeling better, and has forgiven you! Bigfoot has been on at least three rounds of steroid treatments for the same problem. The first time it happened, I did everything the vet said, including putting him on a very boring vet prescribed food that he didn’t enjoy (dry) but finally gave in. It killed me to force him to eat it, I can’t remember the type, either KD or ZD, but one of those damned D’s. very expensive too. Eventually, I caved…he ate his other favorite food and didn’t have problems for more than a year. The second time around, I convinced the vet that it wasn’t a food allergy, but environmental. At this point he suggested Bigfoot would have to be on steroids, at the minimum dose the rest of his life. Well….no way for me. I knew it would pass again. And it did. We have just finished another round, and he is doing better.

    The interesting thing is, and I’m wondering if any other POC regulars have had this problem..the last two rounds of steroid treatments, at the minimum dose of half a pill every other day, Bigfoot started to leak urine. I asked the vet about it and he said it isn’t common for cats, especially male cats, to leak. He doesn’t think it is the steroids, yet the problem stops when I stop the steroids completely.

    It is almost as if Bigfoot gets lazy or lethargic. When he leaks, I check the litter box and find that he hadn’t gone to use it in more than 8 hours. If I get him to move around a bit, he goes straight to the box.

    I’ve sometimes been up changing bed sheets at three in the morning! Yuck.

    Has anyone else had this problem? All his senior tests come out fine. No kidney problems.

    “Sorry I wet the bed mom”

    • I found this very interesting DW. The leaking problem is something I have not heard of before. I appears that Bigfoot was “doped up” and lethargic because of the steroids and was so lethargic that he didn’t get to the toilet. He was not responding to a desire to to use the litter so he leaked. That is what it seems like to me.

      I have always believed steroids to be the vet’s last resort and a medicine which indicates that the vet has not got any idea what the problem is. Long term steroid use is not recommended, as far as I remember. Steroids depress the cat’s immune response.

      Allergies amongst cats is a major, hidden problem because the symptoms are vague, which hides the cause of the problem and the cause is confused with other illnesses.

      I’ll do some work on the use of steroids and urine leaks to see what I can come up with.

      I think you did a great job with “directing” the vet and doing what you believed was right. The sign of a good and switched in cat caretaker.

      The Hills dry food he received was probably some sort of hypoallergenic dry cat food. Bland cat food that does not contain possible substances in the food that might cause an allergic reaction. Forgotten what it is called! Could not find it. It may have been something else.

      • Steroids are frightening to us Michael but we had to give Jo’s allergy a good kicking and hope this one course does the job.
        I wish I knew a homeopathic type of vet to trust but there is no one here, I wrote to the only one I know in the USA but she didn’t reply …….
        We tried the hypoallergenic food, biscuits and wet food too, but out cats wouldn’t even look at it, we gave it to one of our Rescues for the feral colonies because ferals will eat almost anything.

        • When a vet prescribes steroids, you know your cat is in trouble with an incurable disease that has not been diagnosed. That is the way I see it. I hope Jozef gets rid of the problem.

          There seems to be little or no attempt by the big manufacturers to look into their products to make them safer for companion animals. That can’t be good for us either.

          If our cat is allergic to an airborne allergen in a spray for example then what harm is it doing to us?

          • I think a cat not on a course of steroids but needing to be, is in more trouble than a cat on a course tapering off like Jozef and Bigfoot are. The option is always there in the future for a small dose course if necessary and is the only option really as we don’t know what causes the allergy, or it could be allergies, to many things in life.
            Barbara has been on two courses of steroids for a skin problem and they helped a lot and she was glad of them to help her and have the option in the future if she gets really bad again.
            They aren’t really much further on with human medicine, they don’t concentrate on trying to cure ‘small’ chronic diseases but on prolonging life by any means and no matter how poor the quality of the person’s life.
            This world is now causing much stress and illness to all species of animals, us included and it’s frightening!
            It’s no safer indoors than outdoors now for cats.


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