It’s not always well-known that cats can experience allergy symptoms much like humans can. Sneezing, watery eyes, itching and other problems are actually quite common in our feline friends, and one of the top causes of these issues is seasonal allergies.
Things like pollen and grass can cause our cats some serious frustration during spring and summer when open windows let in a constant stream of allergen-filled air. However, this may lead some cat owners to believe that allergies can only occur during the warm-weathered months when plants are alive and growing. Really, cats can experience allergies all year long—even in winter.
Understanding winter allergies in cats
If your cat suffers from allergies, it’s because their immune system has mistakenly labeled an allergen—sometimes dust, a food ingredient or other substance—as a threat and creates antibodies that attack when your cat comes into contact with it.
If your cat experiences seasonal allergies and reacts to things like pollen, grass, ragweed or other “warm-weather” allergens, they will likely find some relief in the winter season when these allergens are not present. However, not all cats have the same allergies, meaning your cat may react to allergens that are still present during winter.
There are multiple types of allergies that cats could suffer from in the cold months. Some are environmental and airborne, which are very similar to seasonal allergies and might come from within the home. When the doors and windows close up, your pet may actually experience more allergy symptoms than before, since central heating circulates allergens like dust and mold every day. Other allergens might be related to your cat’s daily diet.
Here’s a quick overview of the cat allergies that can appear in winter.
- Environmental allergies: Environmental allergies are reactions to things in your cat’s environment—usually household or airborne substances like dust, mold and cleaning products. Environmental allergens most commonly result in atopic dermatitis, which is a reaction on the skin after contact with an allergenic substance. Atopic dermatitis may cause small, red, itchy bumps on your cat’s skin as well as redness and inflammation, causing your cat to go haywire with itching, biting or licking. It can also lead to secondary problems such as hair loss, open wounds and bacterial infections.
- Food allergies: Food allergies can occur throughout the entire year, and symptoms will arise when your cat eats the allergenic ingredient. Cats can be allergic to a variety of ingredients, the most common ones being chicken, beef, fish and dairy. While environmental allergies cause skin problems, food allergies usually manifest as gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Aside from gastrointestinal problems, allergies may produce the following symptoms:
- Skin inflammation
- Red bumps
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Open wounds
- Bacterial infections
- Hair loss
Helping your cat avoid winter allergies
If you notice your cat is experiencing symptoms of allergies, it would be wise to visit the vet and have tests run to determine if allergies are truly the problem and to get to the root of the issue. Sometimes, removing a particular food from your cat’s diet is all it takes to keep your pet healthy.
In other situations, your cat may be allergic to dust, mold or a cleaning product. These can be harder to eradicate and may require additional care to help your cat alleviate their allergy symptoms. If your cat has environmental allergies, there are several steps you can build into your daily routine to minimize their discomfort all winter long.
Here’s what you can do to reduce your cat’s environmental allergy symptoms.
- Use a HEPA filter: A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter is a special type of mechanical filter that’s very good at removing small particles from the air. This type of filter is particularly well-known for allergy relief (in both humans and pets) because of its ability to trap around 99.97 percent of all foreign particles circulating through your home. You can put HEPA filters in the air ducts or place portable ones in the rooms where your cat spends most of their time.
- Give them regular baths: If your cat is allergic to something like dust, which is not easily removed from the home, they may have continuous atopic dermatitis. You can give your cat a bath using oatmeal shampoo to help soothe their itchy skin, relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Baths can minimize excessive itching, biting and licking, which in turn reduces the risk of open wounds and secondary bacterial infections.
- Wipe down their fur: Not all cats will agree to take a bath. Thankfully, there are other ways you can remove airborne allergens from your cat’s fur. Pet stores often sell wet wipes specifically designed to clean off a cat’s coat. This eliminates the need to force your feline friend into the bathtub. Aside from pet-friendly wipes, you can also clean their coat with a warm, damp cloth.
- Keep the house clean: There’s more to clean than your feline friend’s coat. Make sure you vacuum frequently and wash your cat’s bed, toys, blankets and favorite clothing to keep them free of allergens. If you know the specific allergen that triggers your cat’s symptoms, such as a particular detergent, litter or perfume, avoid using that item in the house. Replace the offending household item with a hypoallergenic alternative.
- Provide allergy supplements: If your cat’s allergies are not severe enough to warrant the use of antihistamines or other medications, you might want to try using a natural supplement designed to reduce allergy symptoms. Natural herbs like nettle, eyebright and yerba santa leaf possess antihistamine-type properties and may help regulate mucus production.
With a little extra effort to keep your home clean and free of allergens, your cat will have a much easier time during winter. Try your hardest to keep known allergens away from your cat and keep an eye out for any other substances that may be causing problems with your cat’s health.
Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in January 2019. It has been updated to include more relevant and comprehensive information.