What does a flea allergy look like on a cat
Vector-borne diseases are those transmitted by fleas or ticks (among other parasites) that infest dogs and cats. They can affect pets and people. Ticks can transmit a large number of “vectorborne” diseases in North America including ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
What can cause cats to itch other than fleas?
Important causes of pruritus other than fleas include:
- Insect bites
- Food intolerance/allergy
- Atopy (house dust and pollen allergy)
- Ear mites and other mites
- Bacterial infections
Insects such as wasps and bees can cause stings that lead to dramatic, painful and swollen skin.
However, some other insects including fleas, midges, flies and mosquitoes may bite and the reaction to the bite (or the insect saliva) may cause intense irritation and pruritus. Flying insects generally bite relatively hairless areas such as the bridge of the nose and ears.
Notably, mosquitoes own been reported to cause an eosinophilic granuloma-like reaction on the bridge of the nose of some cats (mosquito-bite hypersensitivity).
Food intolerance or allergy
No-one knows the exact mechanisms by which certain foods can make animals and humans itch. Allergy may be involved, but in some cases, it is possible that the pruritus may result from chemical reactions to the food or to additives and preservatives.
However, it is well recognised that changing the diet to a food that cats own not previously been exposed to can cure some cases of pruritic skin disease. Most of these are probably food allergies but the terms ‘food intolerance’ or ‘food-responsive’ skin disease are sometimes used as a specific diagnosis is often not made.
Cats may need to be fed an alternative diet for a period of 6-8 weeks to law out food-response dermatitis, and the choice of food is significant.
This is not simply switching one brand of cat food for another, as the ingredients are often extremely similar. Your vet will advise you on the most appropriate diet to use – this might be a home-prepared diet, or your vet may propose a special ‘hypoallergenic’ diet for the trial period. Numerous cats also hunt or may be fed by neighbours, which can complicate the trial as it is significant that no other foods are eaten during the trial period.
Ear mites – Otodectes cynotis
Ear mites are well known as the major cause of otitis externa (ear inflammation) in young cats and in breeding colonies – see common ear problems in cats.
However, it is also possible for the mites to wander onto the skin around the head and neck and cause pruritic skin disease at these sites. As cats sleep curled up, spread of infection (and subsequent dermatitis) to the rump and tail may also occur.
Harvest mites are a recognised cause of skin disease in cats in some areas in tardy summer and autumn – see harvest mite infection in cats. These tiny orange dot sized mites are visible to the naked eye and generally found between the toes and in Henry’s pocket of the ear flap.
In some parts of the world, the mites Noedres cati and Sarcoptes scabiei may be found on cats and may be a cause of intense pruritus.
Atopy (atopic dermatitis; dust and pollen allergy)
Atopy is not well characterised in cats.
In humans and dogs, the term is strictly used to describe an inherited predisposition to develop allergic reactions to environmental allergens (such as pollen and home dust). Allergies to pollen and home dust happen in cats, and may be a potential cause of pruritus, but they are hard to diagnose and it is unknown whether there is an inherited component to the disease.
In most cats, atopy is diagnosed by ruling out other potential causes of pruritus, including fleas and other parasites, and food.
Allergy testing can be performed on cats (for example intra-derma skin tests) but the results are rather unreliable. Blood tests are also offered by some laboratories to ‘diagnose’ atopy and the underlying cause of the allergy, but these are less dependable than skin tests, and both untrue positive and untrue negative tests are well recognised.
Atopy is incurable and life-long medication is needed to prevent unacceptable discomfort. Treatment with essential fatty acids and anti-histamines is successful in only a minority of cases. Numerous cats need long-term corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporin.
If an allergy test has successfully identified the offending allergen, then it is possible to use a ‘hyposensitisation vaccine’ as a therapy – these rarely resolve the disease but in some cases reduce the need for drug therapy.
Bacterial skin infections (pyoderma) and fungal (yeast) infections
Although bacterial skin disease in cats is unusual, it may happen and there are occasional cases of spectacular recovery following antibiotic treatment in pruritic cats. This is unusual, but more work is needed in this area.
Dermatophytosis (infection with a dermatophyte fungal organism) is not generally pruritic, but skin infection with yeasts (Malassezia) can be a problem in some cats – this is often secondary to allergic skin disease, but the yeasts may also contribute to the pruritus.
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Studies own shown that food allergies overall are the third most common type of feline allergy, outranked in frequency only by allergies to flea bites and inhaled substances.
Although itchy, irritating skin problems are the most common signs of this allergy, an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of affected cats also exhibit gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting and diarrhea.
The itching that typically signals the presence of a food allergy is caused by the eruption of little, pale, fluid-filled lumps on a cat’s skin, which form in response to the presence of an allergen, a substance to which the animal’s system is abnormally sensitive.
“The itching eruptions primarily affect the head and neck area,” says Carolyn McDaniel, VMD, a lecturer in clinical sciences at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“They’re not always in that area, but often enough to serve as a clue that the source is a food allergy.”
In themselves, the aggravating lesions do not pose a significant health hazard. But the incessant scratching that they immediate may cause secondary skin wounds and a resulting vulnerability to severe bacterial infection. In addition, gastrointestinal problems stemming from a food allergy may own far-reaching systemic implications, including food avoidance that can result in health-compromising weight loss.
The most visible signs of a food allergy—the persistent scratching, the emergence of skin lesions, loss of hair, and a general deterioration of the coat—do not develop overnight.
Instead, they tend to become evident and intensify over extended periods of time—months or even longer—as the animal’s immune system gradually mounts a defense against certain protein and carbohydrate molecules that are present in most standard cat foods. “We don’t know why this allergy develops,” says Dr. McDaniel. “A cat of any age can be affected, and it can happen in a cat that has been on the same diet for years.”
When the signs appear, a cat should get immediate veterinary care.
If a food allergy is indeed suspected, the specific allergen should be identified and removed from the animal’s diet.
After other potential causes of the skin eruptions, such as flea bites, are ruled out and a food allergy is identified as the probable cause of the clinical signs, the next challenge is to identify what precisely in the cat’s diet is responsible for the problem. This process will most effectively be carried out at home by the owner’s introduction of what is termed a “novel” diet, which is based on the fact that most feline food allergies are traceable to the protein or carbohydrate content of an affected animal’s normal fare.
The most commonly used protein sources in cat food include beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, and eggs. Since protein is a fundamental component of living cells and is necessary for the proper functioning of an organism, the novel diet must contain protein—but it must be derived from a source to which an affected cat has not been previously exposed, such as venison or kangaroo meat. Since the same holds true for carbohydrates, the vegetables that are frequently used in cat foods—wheat, barley, and corn, for instance—would be excluded from the novel diet and replaced by, for example, potato.
If a cat consumes nothing but the novel diet and water for a period of at least eight to 10 weeks, it is likely that the allergic signs will gradually vanish. In that case, the owner can assume that the allergen was a component of the previous diet. And to identify the specific offending allergen, the owner subsequently reintroduces components of the cat’s original diet one by one and watches carefully for the reemergence of allergic symptoms.
If the symptoms recur, they will probably do so within a week or two, in which case the owner will own confirmed at least one source of the allergy.
Through repeated systematic testing—and a lot of patience—it is possible for the owner to pinpoint every dietary ingredients to which a cat is allergic. Therapy, it follows, requires the permanent exclusion of these ingredients from the cat’s diet.
Fleas are probably the most common ectoparasite (external parasite) of dogs and cats worldwide.
In addition to just being a nuisance, fleas are responsible for flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) in dogs and cats, which is estimated to account for over 50 percent of every the dermatological cases reported to veterinarians.
Ticks are also ectoparasites. Ticks are significant vectors of a number of diseases, including Lyme disease. Ticks are second only to mosquitoes as vectors of human disease, both infectious and toxic.
Control and prevention of ticks is extremely significant in reducing the risk of disease associated with ticks.
The Companion Animal Parasite Council
The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) is an independent council of veterinarians and other heath care professionals established to create guidelines for the optimal control of internal and external parasites that threaten the health of pets and people.
It brings together wide expertise in pararsitology, internal medicine, human health care, public health, veterinary law, private practice and association leadership.
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Fleas are extremely little insects, about a quarter of an inch in length.
They do not own wings, but their endless hind legs are designed for jumping. They reproduce quickly and often live in fabrics and carpets.
Human and non-human animals are at risk of fleabites, which can be itchy and painful. Fleas can also carry human diseases. The most renowned example of this was the plague.
Owning a pet increases the risk of a flea infestation, but it is not only pet-owners who are at risk.
Fleas can enter the home on any fabric or fur. Once in the home, their quick breeding cycle means they can rapidly become a nuisance.
This article covers everything you need to know about fleabites, including how to identify and treat them. This MNT Knowledge Middle article will also give advice on keeping your home and pets free of fleas.
Fast facts on fleabites
- Bites from fleas can trigger allergic reactions, but they will not often own a serious impact on a person's health.
- Fleabites will normally be extremely little with a central red spot, often appearing in groups of three or four.
- Blisters form on bed bug bites but not fleabites.
- Fleas mainly feed on non-human animals but can bite and infect humans.
They can be hard to remove from the home and can survive for more than 100 days without a host.
- Regularly clean and vacuum floors, furniture, bedding, and skirting boards to reduce the risk of flea infestation.
Parasites can infect your pet any time of year. While external parasites, such as fleas and ticks, may be less of a problem during certain times of the year, depending on where you live, internal parasites (worms) can be present year-round. That’s why it’s significant to consult with your veterinarian to implement a yearround parasite control program.
Manifestations of feline pruritus
Common manifestations of pruritic skin disease in cats include:
- Symmetrical hair loss
- ‘Miliary’ dermatitis – this form of skin disease is characterised by the presence of tiny 2-3 mm diameter crusts throughout the body surface.
The skin and jacket may also be greasy and own excessive dandruff
- Overt itching, scratching and self-induced skin damage
- Eosinophilic granuloma complicated – see eosinophilic granuloma complicated in cats – this is a variety of skin lesions (indolent ulcer that affects the upper lip, and eosinophilic plagues or eosinophilic granulomas that can affect various areas of the body and also the oral cavity. They are generally associated with allergies. Every of these manifestations of pruritus glance completely diverse, but can every be caused by the same things — in most instances the cause is fleas but other parasites and allergies can be involved.
Some cats may own more than one manifestation of disease present simultaneously eg, indolent ulcer and symmetrical hair loss.
Common questions about fleas and ticks
Why should I control parasites for my pet year-round?
Due to the large number of internal and external parasites and the high risk of pet infection, controlling parasites year-round is the most dependable way to ensure the highest level of health for your pet and well-being of your family. Year-round prevention is the most effective way to control cat and dog parasites and the diseases they can carry.
People ponder their pets are safe during the colder months, but pets are susceptible to flea and tick infections at every times of the year. And regardless of the weather, numerous of these pests can even survive in your home – in carpeting, on furniture and in the bedroom.
Do fleas on my pet present a health risk to my family?
Yes. Fleas can carry and transmit several potential illnesses of importance to humans, including typhus and plague, and can transmit “cat scratch disease” (infection with Bartonella) among cats who can then spread the disease to humans.
Additionally, fleas serve as an intermediate host for tapeworms, which can infect your pet and occasionally humans.
What human-health problems are associated with ticks?
Ticks transmit a large number of diseases in North America. These diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, relapsing fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia and tick paralysis. It is significant for the health of your pet, as well as the safety of your family, to include ticks in your pet’s year-round parasite control program.
What if my cat never goes outside?
Indoor cats own less chance of acquiring fleas and ticks, but they should be regularly checked, just in case.
Other pets and/or family members can be hosts for fleas and ticks (on pant cuffs or socks) and bring them home to your indoor cat.
Tips to protect your family and your pet.
- Do not permit children to put dirt in their mouths.
- Pick up dog and cat waste from your yard daily, especially in areas where both children and animals play.
- Cover home sandboxes to protect them from fecal contamination.
- Wash your hands well after contact with an animal.
- Have your pet tested regularly (at least once a year) for parasites by a veterinarian and ister year-round preventive medications to control internal parasites that present a risk to your pet and your family.