What are allergies and how do they affect cats?
One of the most common conditions affecting cats is allergies. An allergy occurs when the cat's immune system overreacts to foreign substances called allergens or antigens. Allergens and antigens are simply foreign proteins that the body's immune system tries to remove, much like fighting an infection.
These overreactions are manifested in one of three ways:
1. The most common manifestation is itching of the skin, either localized in one area or a generalized reaction all over the cat's body.
2. Another manifestation involves the respiratory system and may result in coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. Sometimes, there may be an associated nasal or ocular (eye) discharge.
3. The third manifestation involves the digestive system, resulting in vomiting, flatulence or diarrhea.
How many types of allergies are there?
There are four common types of allergies in the cat: flea, food, inhalant, and contact. Each has common clinical signs and unique characteristics. A normal cat experiences only minor skin irritation at the site of flea bites. The flea allergic cat, on the other hand, has a severe, itch- producing reaction when the flea's saliva is deposited in the skin. Just one flea bite may cause such intense itching that the cat may severely scratch or chew itself, leading to the removal of large amounts of hair. There will often be open sores or scabs on the skin, resulting in a secondary bacterial skin infection (pyoderma). The area most commonly involved is over the rump or base of the tail. In addition, the cat may have numerous small scabs around the head and neck. These scabs are often referred to as miliary dermatitis, a term that was coined because the scabs look like millet seeds.
The most important treatment for flea allergy is to eliminate all fleas. Therefore, strict flea control is the cornerstone of successful treatment. Unfortunately, this may be challenging in warm and humid climates, where a new population of fleas can hatch out every fourteen to twenty-one days. Some monthly flea products may kill fleas before they have a chance to bite your cat (see handout "Flea Control in Cats"). When strict flea control is not possible, injections of corticosteroids, also referred to as cortisone or steroid shots can be used to block the allergic reaction and give immediate relief. This is often a necessary part of the initial treatment of flea allergies. Fortunately, cats appear relatively more resistant to the negative side effects of steroids than other mammals. If a secondary bacterial skin infection occurs from the flea allergy dermatitis, appropriate antibiotics must be used, generally for two to four weeks. See handout "Allergy - Flea Allergy in Cats" for more detailed information about flea allergies in cats.
What is food allergy and how is it treated?
More commonly, they develop allergies to food products they have eaten for a long time. Food allergies are now estimated to be the second leading cause of allergic dermatitis in cats. The allergy most frequently develops in response to the protein component of the food; for example, beef, pork, chicken, or turkey. Vegetable proteins such as those found in corn or wheat may cause food allergies in some cases. Food allergy may produce any of the clinical signs previously discussed, including itching, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress.
"Food allergies are now estimated to be the second leading cause of allergic dermatitis in cats" Food allergy testing is recommended when the clinical signs have been present for several months, when the cat has a poor response to steroids, or when a very young cat itches without other apparent causes of allergy. Testing is conducted by feeding an elimination or hypoallergenic diet. Because it takes at least eight weeks for all other food products to be removed from the body, the cat must eat the special diet exclusively for a minimum of eight to twelve weeks. If a positive response occurs, you will be instructed on how to proceed. If the diet is not fed exclusively, it will not be a meaningful test. This means absolutely no treats, other foods, people foods, or flavored medications during this period. This cannot be overemphasized. Even accidentally providing a tiny amount of the offending protein can result in invalidating the test.
If your cat’s symptoms improve after the food trial, a presumptive diagnosis of food allergy is made. Exclusively feeding a hypoallergenic diet lifelong is highly successful in treating food allergic skin disease in many cats. Because cats that are being tested for inhalant allergy generally itch year round, a food allergy dietary test can be performed while the inhalant test results are pending or antigen preparation is occurring. Remember that many cats are allergic to many things – pollens, fleas, and food – and a combination of therapies is often required to keep your cat as comfortable as possible.
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis
What is feline idiopathic cystitis?
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is an older term used to describe a set of clinical signs associated with abnormal urination in cats. Some causes of FLUTD are: urinary tract infections (UTIs), bladder stones, or bladder crystals. When the condition has no identifiable cause, it is called feline idiopathic cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) indicating that this is an exclusionary diagnosis (i.e., no other causes for it can be identified). This condition was previously called Idiopathic Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or iFLUTD. Some studies suggest this condition is very similar to Interstitial Cystitis in human females.
This condition is also called Pandora Syndrome, as the underlying causes for the condition may reflect abnormalities in many organ systems (including the nervous system), and takes into account the effects of environmental stressors that contribute to its development. Cats will often suffer waxing and waning of clinical signs in response to stresses affecting the central stress response system.
What are the clinical signs of feline idiopathic cystitis?
The most common clinical signs are similar to those seen in other urinary diseases:
- straining to urinate
- bloody or discolored urine
- frequent urination
- urinating in unusual locations
- the inability to urinate (this is a critical emergency and your cat must be seen by a veterinarian immediately).
What causes feline idiopathic cystitis?
By definition, in cases of feline idiopathic cystitis there are no known causes. The conditions that must be ruled out first include:
- bladder stones and urethral plugs
- bladder infections
- neurologic disorders that alter normal urination by affecting the nerves and muscles of the bladder
- anatomic abnormalities such as urethral strictures
- neoplasia (cancer or benign tumors of the urinary tract)
Once all of the common causes of abnormal urination have been eliminated, a diagnosis of feline idiopathic cystitis may be made.
How is FIC diagnosed?
FIC is diagnosed by performing tests to eliminate the known causes of abnormal urination.
These tests include any or all of the following:
- thorough medical history and physical examination - especially paying attention to any changes in environment, feeding, stress, etc.
- blood tests - complete blood cell count (CBC) and serum chemistries
- complete urinalysis
- urine culture and antibiotic sensitivity tests
- abdominal radiographs, which may include contrast radiographic studies to see if the bladder appears abnormal or contains bladder stones
- abdominal ultrasound to look at the structure of the bladder and presence of bladder crystals or bladder stones
- cystoscopy or endoscopic examination (video examination) of the urethra and bladder bladder biopsy.
What is the treatment of FIC?
The most effective approach for treating FIC is to address the stressors that triggered the clinical signs in the first place. This often involves the use of anxiety-relieving medications. As well, improving the cat's environment to reduce or eliminate potential stressors is important.
A combination of strategies can be tried to eliminate stressors including:
- keep water dishes clean and filled with fresh water
- keep a regular daily schedule including times for feeding, play, affection, and rest
- be consistent with; rules; for your cat: do not allow your cat to climb on the counter one day and scold it the next
- if your cat eats dry food, use a puzzle feeder occasionally instead of a regular food bowl
- make any required changes to your cat’s schedule slowly over time
- add scratching posts, cat condos, and toys to play with
- try to eliminate foreign cats from entering your property as they can be a source of stress to your cat, even if your cat does not go outdoors
- reduce competition between cats in your home by ensuring that there are enough litter boxes (one more litter-box than the number of cats in the home), resting places, and ensure that all cats have easy access to food and water.
In addition, this condition is considered to be painful, so pain medications are often used in order to alleviate discomfort during flare-ups. Anti-spasmodic medication to prevent urethral spasms may also be prescribed.
What is the prognosis for FIC?
Recurrence of the condition can be common. Medical treatment may help reduce the frequency or improve clinical signs, thus relieving your cat's discomfort. The main thing to be aware of is to watch for the development of clinical signs, and, more importantly, be aware of changes in the environment that may trigger a recurrence due to stress. FIC cats can be very sensitive to these changes; thankfully, most cat owners are aware that the cat in question has an anxious or sensitive personality and are mindful of watching for flare-ups.
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