Flea Allergy in Cats

Flea Allergy is one of the most common conditions to affect cats. The allergy will cause the cat’s immune system to react and produce antigens and allergens. This reaction is the cat’s body trying to remove the foreign substances.

Allergic reactions can manifest in three ways:

  1. Itching of the skin
  2. Coughing, sneezing and/or wheezing
  3. Vomiting, flatulence or diarrhea

Flea Allergy

There are four common allergies that affect cats contact, flea, food, and inhalant. A cat with a flea allergy will have a severe reaction to a flea bite, this occurs because the cat has developed an allergic response to either the proteins or antigens found in the flea’s saliva. Just one flea bite on an allergic cat can cause intense itching and discomfort which can last for days!

The intense itching will cause the cat to respond by chewing, licking or scratching the affected area. This can result in is hair loss and even open sores or scabs on the cat’s skin, allowing a secondary bacterial infection to develop.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Cats are well known as fastidious groomers, which is why it is often impossible to find evidence of fleas or flea dirt on their coat, especially in cases where only a few fleas are causing the problem.  However, skin tests or specialised blood tests can confirm a clear diagnosis of a flea allergy.

Treatment for Flea Allergy

Treatment for flea allergy starts which strict flea control – treatment should be given to treat the cat and to control fleas in the home environment.

Some cats can be de-sensitised to the adverse effects of flea bites. Flea saliva extract (flea antigen) is injected into the cat in tiny amounts over a prolonged period. These “allergy shots” are used in an attempt to reprogram the cat’s immune system so it no longer over-reacts to flea bites. If successful, itching no longer occurs or is less intense when the cat is bitten. De-sensitization therapy is successful in approximately half of FAD cases.

Corticosteroids (steroids) can be prescribed to block the allergic reaction and give immediate relief. This is often a necessary part of treating flea allergy dermatitis.  Cats are more resistant to the negative side-effects of steroids than humans and dogs, but significant side-effects can occur if they are not used properly. For this reason, the goal is to administer the smallest amount of steroid needed to keep the cat comfortable.

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