The answer to this is unfortunately not always obvious or straightforward. If humans have an allergy, say for instance hay fever, we tend to get sore eyes, a runny nose, and sneeze. The commonest manifestation of an allergy in cats is itchy skin, which in turns results in excessive grooming and pulling hair out. In much the same way that some people have a peanut allergy, or a seafood allergy, or get hay fever, a cat may be allergic to one substance and be fine with another. Potentially anything in the environment can be an allergen, if the cat is sensitive to it. Common allergens include house dust mites, grass pollens, tree pollens, and flea bites.
If your cat has an allergy to pollen, you may notice their over-grooming becomes worse in the seasons when that pollen is around, such as in the spring for trees, or summer for grasses. There is also a wide overlap in reaction to many pollens and so it might be the cat only gets relief in the winter, when there are very few pollens around to trigger the reaction. This might be things like spray deodorants, perfumes, or hairspray that are used near the cat and land on its coat, causing irritation. Unfortunately, it is notoriously difficult to diagnose the exact allergen which the cat is reacting against. It has difficulty regulating body temperature in the warm weather. There are other signs to indicate if your cat is bothered by the heat, like panting, drinking too much water or even fainting. If its over-grooming slows in the winter, there’s a good chance it’s for another reason.
It might be eating plants or animals that don’t agree with it. Warm weather can certainly cause your cat to eat things it shouldn’t. Still, there’s a far better chance it’s related to something else. Your cat has a pollen allergy. Winter is the only season where you will see a significant drop in pollen count, so if you cat stops over-grooming or grooms less, there’s a chance is is allergic to the pollen that comes out in other seasons. Read on for another quiz question.
The air conditioning unit or fan is bothering your cat’s skin. Since a fan is only circulating the air that is already in your house, the problem isn’t with the fan, but what’s in the air. C, they might dislike the noise or the cold, but that’s not the reason they’ll stop grooming as much in the wintertime. Minimize exposure to suspected allergens. Remove as many possible causes of allergy or irritation as possible. The effectiveness of this approach may be limited if the cat reacts to pollens, in which case drug therapy may be required.
Use anti-inflammatories to decrease irritation. The vet will first make a judgement call as to whether treatment is necessary or not. The drugs used to decrease itch can have side effects and your vet should make an educated decision about whether the benefits outweigh the risks. If the cat is pulling its fur out and making the skin inflamed, red, infected or ulcerated, then drug therapy is indicated. If it’s a case of a few shorter furred areas, then it probably isn’t. The decision to treat or not is one for you to decide in consultation with your vet.
The drugs commonly used are anti-inflammatories. Corticosteroids such as prednisolone are cheap and effective. Where possible, medication is stopped over the winter. You should discuss your cat’s individual risk of side effects with your veterinarian. Treat your cat with antibiotics if its skin becomes infected. Antibiotics may be necessary if your cat has pulled the fur out and made the skin sore or infected. In this case the skin may glisten, or appear moist, there may be a sticky discharge or the area smells.
You can help at home by gently bathing the infected area twice a day with a salt water solution and then patting the skin dry. To make up a saltwater solution, boil the kettle, then dissolve one teaspoon of regular table salt into one pint of previously boiled water. Keep this solution in a clean container and soak a clean ball of cotton wool each time. When should you consider putting your cat on medication for its irritations? When you notice patches of shorter fur on your cat. If your cat has a few patches of shorter fur, then their irritation isn’t that extreme. You don’t want to put your cat on medication if you don’t have to, so hold off if this is the only symptom. When your cat starts hacking up hairballs. Hairballs are important for cats, especially ones that are over-grooming. Still, a few hairballs isn’t a big deal and you don’t want to put your cat on medication if you don’t have to, so hold off if this is the only symptom. If you have removed all the potential allergens from the house and your cat is still over-grooming. If you remove all the potential allergens, like sprays and candles, and your cat is still over-grooming, there’s a good chance that it is a pollen related irritation, which might need to be treated with medication.