Itchy Cat? Could Be Seasonal Allergies

Cats can suffer from seasonal allergies as well, but their symptoms can be different from allergies in humans or dogs.

Published December 1, 2023
Maine Coon cat scratching its face

Cats can suffer from seasonal allergies just like we do. But instead of simply sneezing and sniffling like humans, most allergic cats are itchy cats. Seeing your cat suffering from seasonal allergies can be miserable for both of you, but fortunately, there are ways you can help them find relief. Get the low down on all things itchy cat with these 15 need-to-know facts, then head to your veterinarian with our questions below to help you have a conversation about your own cat's needs.

1. Cats Have Many of the Same Allergy Triggers We Do

You probably know that as soon as the ragweed pollen starts blowing around, you’re in for allergies. But did you know that winter months can be just as bad? Cats have many of the same seasonal allergy triggers as we do, including:

  • Dust mites
  • Pollens
  • Grass
  • Mold
  • Mildew
  • Insect bites
cat seasonal allergies facts

2. You Could Bring Allergens Inside With You

It’s not just outdoor cats who are exposed to these allergens. You can easily bring pollens and molds into your home via your clothing, shoes, and any other items you bring inside that your cat rubs up against. Plus, airborne allergens are constantly floating through the air.

A HEPA filter can help remove allergens from the air, and you may want to consider changing your clothes after coming indoors to limit your cat’s exposure to other things if their allergies are especially bad. 

Need to Know

Indoor air quality is notoriously worse in the winter months, as drier, colder air traps more pollutants, and closed windows increase the concentration of dust mites in many homes. 

3. Winter Air & Indoor Heat Can Dry Out Your Cat’s Skin

Your skin gets dry in the winter, so it’s no wonder it happens to your cat, too. The lack of moisture in the air during the winter contributes to this. Add that to the dry, warm air from your heater, and you have the perfect storm for flaky, itchy skin.

Quick Tip

Using a humidifier during the winter can help increase the moisture in the air in your home, but you’ll also want to hydrate your cat from the inside out by encouraging them to drink more water during those months.

4. Cats Generally Develop Allergies Younger in Life

If your cat is going to develop environmental or food allergies, they’ll generally do it earlier in life. Airborne allergies typically crop up before the age of five years old, whereas food allergies are present by two years of age. That said, it's not impossible for cats to develop respiratory sensitivities and asthma in later years, which can also be triggered by allergens, such as dust mites and pollen.

5. Cat Allergies Can Cause a Range of Symptoms

The symptoms of cat allergies, including seasonal allergies, vary based on the cat and the type of allergy they suffer from. A few of the most common allergy signs include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Eye discharge
  • Itching
  • Hair loss
  • Chewing on self/overgrooming
  • Rubbing body on the ground
  • Hives
  • Red skin
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing

If you notice any of the above, a trip to your veterinarian is a good idea.

Helpful Hack

Keep a record of how, when, and where you notice these signs, and bring the log to your veterinarian. This can help you both understand the underlying causes and get your cat feeling better faster.

6. The Medical Term for Itching Is “Pruritus”

If you see the term “pruritus” in your cat’s medical chart or while perusing articles online, it just means itching. Just like itching, pruritus isn’t a disease. Instead, it’s a symptom of many different things.

7. Flea Allergy Is the No.1 Most Common Allergy in Cats

Many owners are surprised to learn that fleas play a role in so many cases of cat allergies, but these tiny bugs can cause big problems. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a condition where a cat is sensitive to flea saliva and has an allergic reaction to flea bites. Yikes, right? And it’s way more common than you might think. According to a survey performed by Banfield Pet Hospitals, FAD has increased by 67% in cats over the last 10 years.

itchy cat facts- allergies
Quick Tip

Even if fleas aren’t the primary cause of your cat’s itching, they can make symptoms worse, so it’s always important to take measures to prevent or address these little parasites.

8. But There Are Many Other Reasons Cats Can Scratch

Even though nearly all allergic cats itch, not all itchy cats are allergic. There are other conditions and diseases that can cause cats to scratch or chew on themselves. Some of these are:

9. Unfortunately, Stress Can Cause Skin Problems

That’s right — cats can sometimes scratch, chew, and lick as a result of stress. This is a coping behavior that they resort to as a way to feel calmer, but in the end, it can cause more harm than good. Some cats overgroom to the point of baldness, which usually happens on their belly and inner thighs.

Fast Fact

Boredom can also manifest as compulsive grooming. Add at least 15 minutes of playtime to each day to help your cat reduce stress and boredom, and check out these other fun cat boredom busters.

10. Cats Can Scratch to the Point of Trauma

Whatever the reason behind your cat's itching and scratching, it’s possible for them to take it to the point of self-trauma. In fact, this isn’t uncommon at all. Their claws can easily tear into their already irritated and fragile skin, creating open wounds. This is most often seen around the ears, head, and neck. This is why it's important to discuss itchy issues with your veterinarian early and often. Your veterinarian is your best contact for helping reduce your cat's itch as quickly as possible.

11. Seasonal Allergies and Itchy Scratching Can Cause Secondary Infections

When a cat’s skin is inflamed and broken, it’s at risk for germs like bacteria and yeast to grow. This is particularly the case with open wounds. These secondary infections may require antibiotics and can take a while to heal.

12. Certain Cat Breeds Are More Prone to Allergies

Allergies can affect any cat, but there are a few breeds that are more prone to different types of allergies, including:

  • Siamese (food allergies)
  • Abyssinian (skin allergies)
  • Devon Rex (skin allergies)

13. You Can Allergy Test Your Cat

If you’re curious to find out exactly what your cat is allergic to, you can actually pursue allergy testing. You’ll likely need to go to a veterinary dermatologist for this type of testing because most general practice veterinarians don’t offer it, but they can definitely refer you to a specialist. These tests are pretty pricey, but they can give you insight into what your cat is allergic to so you can help make them more comfortable. 

cat allergy testing and itchy cat fact

14. There Are Plenty of Treatment Options for Cat Allergies

Whether or not you pursue allergy testing, know that there are tons of different treatment options for cat itching and allergies. Some of these include environmental modifications, oral allergy medications, soothing baths, prescription ointments, or an elimination diet. 

15. Your Vet Is the Best Person to Help You With Your Itchy Cat

Don’t feel like you’re alone in dealing with your itchy cat. Your veterinarian is the best person to help you diagnose the problem and develop a treatment plan to give them the relief they deserve. When you go in for your appointment, here are some questions you can ask to get the conversation going:

  • What, if any, tests do you recommend for my cat?
  • Are there specific allergens in our area you’ve seen affecting other cats?
  • Are there lifestyle adjustments that can help reduce their discomfort?
  • What about topical products or medications?
  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • When can I expect to see signs of improvement?
  • How often should I come in for follow-up exams?

Cat Itching & Seasonal Allergies

Even though allergies are something many people and pets have to deal with, they can have a significant impact on your cat’s life. All that itching and scratching is definitely uncomfortable for them. Talk to your veterinarian about your concerns so they can help you figure out the best approach for your feline friend. That way, you can keep them happy and scratch-free.

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Itchy Cat? Could Be Seasonal Allergies