Allergy Problems for Cats


Bee and Wasp Stings

Q: Dr. Mike, A wasp got into our home and I originally thought it stung one of our cats (Pooh) before I got him. I watched Pooh for a while and there was no swelling or irritation and he is acting like he usually does (eating, drinking, purring, playing with Keyser-our other furry son) so I think he is ok. I think I might have gotten Pooh with the shoe in my attempts to get the wasp (we were both attacking the wasp at the same time). In the event this happens again, what would we do? Thanks B.

A: Bee and wasp stings do not always cause swelling or obvious signs in pets so it is possible that Pooh did get stung. Once in a while a pet is more sensitive to stings and will get swelling or even suffer severe allergic reactions that can even lead to death. Trying to keep Pooh from being stung is a good idea. I usually try to move my pets into another room before attempting to deal with the wasp. Being a chicken, I generally open the door and invite the insect to leave before launching an all out attack. Sometimes it works.

If swelling does occur, an icepack held on the swollen area is helpful if your cat will allow that. If any difficulty breathing or severe swelling develops it is best to make a quick trip to your vet. It is a good idea to know your vet's emergency care arrangements in advance in this case, so check on them now. Make sure you know who to call and how to get to the emergency care facility.

Odds are there will be no future problems with allergic reactions but it can't hurt to be cautious.

Mike Richards, DVM

Food Allergies

Q: A bit of history about our kitten, if I may, and then a couple of questions. Prof. Higgins is 9 months old and has been a very, very active kitten….running through the woods, playing with our dogs, a real joy. Until this past Saturday. Then he appeared listless and meowed in pain when we picked him up. So, on Sunday, off to the Vet. To try to make a long and worrisome story short: Prof. Higgins had a first series of tests (including blood analysis) and the tentative diagnosis was some liver problems. Got medicine and a short. He rebounded on Monday…and then had a major relapse on Tuesday. Back for more tests. This battery included x-rays and a barium test. Based upon the results, the local Vet thought that this was a gastro-intestinal inflammation that was effecting the liver as well.

His theory is that the kitten’s immune system is rejecting the proteins in his food…we are now on a vast series of pills for the next 7-10 days and have been asked to put him on a special diet – Select Care which is bought by prescription only. Now my brief questions. How can this reaction just appear after no indications for the first 9 months of his life? We had been feeding him Iams dry food – along with our older cat. Good appetite, etc. Can this appear this suddenly? And what would be the effects of keeping him now permanently on this new food that has a different type of protein and a lessor amount? He is still growing and should be very active. Any help, opinions, etc. would certainly be appreciated. Regards, R.

A: Food allergies develop to foods that the cat has been eating, so it isn't unusual for them to appear despite a consistent diet. We don't see food allergies very often and I can't say how fast they come on, from experience. It often helps to use a single antigen (one protein source) diet, no matter what the cause of intestinal inflammation is. I am also not familiar enough with Special Care to tell you much about it. If it says on the can that it meets AAFCO standards for all stages of life it should be OK. If it doesn't say that you should call and ask your vet to check and make sure that the diet will be OK for a kitten.

It often takes several tries to figure out what is causing diarrhea in a kitten. Don't be too disappointed if the current plan of action doesn't work -- just move on to the next step. Your vet probably has an approach to these problems that works for him.

Mike Richards, DVM

Food Allergy

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, I have a cat who is allergic to all foods, including mice. My current vet has him on prednisone, but we wonder if there is sth milder we could put him on since he will be on this medication for the rest of his life. My vet's inquiries have drawn a blank. Do you know of any substitutes for pred which more specifically counter allergic skin, mucus membrane & GI irritation, or do you know who would know? I wonder if cats might have been used in testing medications for similar human allergies. Do you know how I could find out?

A: It is unusual for food allergies to become so broad. It might help if you would tell me what symptoms you are seeing, when they started, what type of dosage it is necessary to use of the prednisone in order to control the symptoms, whether feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus testing has been done. Were the food allergies diagnosed by elimination diets? That seems likely based on your letter, but it is helpful to be sure.

In general, if the problem is inflammatory bowel disease from food allergy, prednisone is the medication least likely to cause side effects. A few cats with this problem will respond to being fed soft-moist foods like Purina EN diet or other commercially available formulations. Of course, if a diet can be formulated from foods your cat is not allergic to, that is best. When medications are necessary and if prednisone won't work alone, the rest of the medications used are more likely to cause side effects. The next most commonly used medication is azathioprine (Immuran Rx).

If you are seeing skin disease associated with the allergy and not digestive signs, it may be possible to relieve the symptoms using a combination of anti-histamine and essential fatty acid administration. We use a combination of chlorpheniramine (Chlortrimeton Rx) and DermCaps (Rx), but there are other antihistamines and other fatty acid supplements. These medications have significantly less potential for adverse side effects.

There are other possible problems than food allergy for both inflammatory bowel disease and the skin diseases. It can be a long and difficult process to sort through the possible problems. It would be very unusual for there to be a food allergy of the magnitude you are describing, so it may be worthwhile to review the other possibilities -- especially for conditions that may require lifelong treatment. Your vet sounds concerned about this and you obviously are, too. That will help.

Mike Richards, DVM

Hair Loss - Some Solutions

Q: My cat has a hair loss problem, her mother was put on ovaban at about three years old, my cat is now six. My cat has been spayed and I was wondering if there was anything I can do to change her diet to make this hair loss not a problem ? Can ovaban be purchased outside of a vet's office or does this have to be diagnoised by a vet ?

A: Megestrol acetate (Ovaban Rx, Megace Rx) is a prescription medication for dogs and humans. It is not available over-the-counter to the best of my knowledge.

If your cat is showing signs of hairloss the first thing to do is make sure that you are doing a good job controlling fleas. This is easier to do than it used to be, with the advent of the newer flea control medications lufenuron (Program Rx), fipronil (TopSpot, Frontline Rx) and imidacloprid (Advantage Rx). These flea control products have decreased the incidence of skin disease in our practice markedly.

If flea control does not resolve the skin problems, some cats benefit from the addition of a fatty acid supplement to their diet. DermCaps (Rx), EFA-Z (Rx), OmegaDerm (Rx) are some of the names of these types of preparations and I am sure there are several others. The essential fatty acids can reduce inflammation and make cats less likely to itch and scratch when they have allergies or other skin disease.

Some cats benefit from hypo-allergenic diets (feeding a food that does not contain "normal" cat food ingredients). There are several companies that make these diets, including Hill's and Innovative Diets. It is better to use these initially with the help of your vet, so that a good evaluation of the likelihood of food allergy can be made.

Mike Richards, DVM

Miliary Dermatitis

Q: Dr. Mike: We have a Maine Coon cat approx. 2 and a half years old. She has had a couple previous bouts of acting as if she has fleas, i.e. biting and scratching herself, yet we can find no fleas on her. She is strictly an indoors cat. Last Sunday(1-26-97) she started doing the same thing. In addition to this she acts as though she is afraid of everything and won't let anyone get near her, including my wife and I. My vet suggested it could possibly be miliary dermatitis, when I talked to him on the phone. Other than this Her health is fine. We don't know if it could possibly be an allergic reaction to her vitamin we give here every morning. The vitamins are called FaVor. We don't know what to do for her. She seems as though she is afraid of everything and at times she will sit and look into the kitchen floor, and see her reflection and get scared. When she is sleeping or otherwise occupied, she don't seem to have the problem. We don't know whether to think it's allergy, neurological or if there is some other problem.

A: I can't think of much to offer in the way of advice. Miliary dermatitis is the name for the itchy scabbiness that cats get in response to several conditions. It can be present with ringworm, flea allergy, other allergies, feline leukemia, immune mediated diseases and probably other conditions I can't think of offhand. Flea allergy is probably the most common cause of miliary dermatitis, though. Veterinary dermatologists have studied flea allergy in cats and have shown that many flea allergic cats are so efficient at catching and removing fleas that they will almost never have fleas on their body when examined. Where I live, fleas are a year-round problem but that may not be true where you are. In any case, use of one of the two long acting adulticide flea products (TopSpot or Advantage) or use of Program year-round, might be worthwhile.

The behavioral symptoms are even harder to figure out. Ruling out physical causes of behavioral disturbances is a good first step. Making sure she is physically normal and has no hidden problems that can be found with bloodwork would be a good idea. There are veterinary behaviorists and you may be lucky enough to have one near you. Your vet would know. If so, that would probably be the person to see after physical problems are ruled out.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...