What might be causing these cats' allergies?
May 15, 2013 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Three cats all have allergies and overgrooming issues. What might be causing this?

My mom's three cats have been suffering from the same allergic condition for some time now. I didn't realize how bad they all had it until I visited for Mother's day and saw that they have all overgroomed to the point where they have no fur on their bellies or back legs. They also have scabbing around their heads/necks from scratching. Two of the cats are littermates. The third cat was raised from kittenhood by me until she moved to my mom's place when she was about 1 year old. It seems odd to me that unrelated cats are all harboring the same allergies.

The vet they go to has shrugged it off as an allergy, but we haven't been able to pinpoint what they're allergic to so we could eliminate it. All three cats get cortisone shots which are really pretty temporary solutions. The vet has suggested a flea allergy, but all three cats are on Frontline. They have open access to a large screened-in porch, so they are exposed to the outside environment fairly often. They also eat regular grocery-store dry food supplemented with Fancy Feast. Other than their overgrooming issues, all three cats are healthy and hearty. The vet has also mentioned stress issues as possible triggers, which could be. The two littermates really dislike the other cat, but she seems to have found ways of avoiding them.

I suggested wheat-free food as a possible allergen reducer, and my mom is planning on ordering some. I've also suggested she get a couple Feliway plugins to deal with the stress issues.
Are there other potential avenues to explore here?
posted by Kitty Stardust to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried changing to a new kitty litter? What do they use now? I knew someone whose cat was allergic to corn-based litter, but fragrances from clumping/deodorizing litter, wheat-based litter, or other compositions are also a possibility. Maybe switch to a newspaper-based litter (Yesterday's News) or unscented clay to see if that helps?

The wheat-free food is a good move even if the food is not the allergy cause.
posted by dayintoday at 3:39 PM on May 15, 2013

Check if any of the products you use in your house have something like "new formula" or "new concentration" or "new anything" on the labels? Also check with your neighbors to see if they're using any kind of lawn chemicals or fertilizer.

In a hilarious plot twist maybe they have become allergic to humans?
posted by elizardbits at 3:50 PM on May 15, 2013

My oldest cat has had this problem and it went away when we switched to grain-free food. (I switched to pine rather than wheat litter around the same time, too, so that might be related.)
posted by restless_nomad at 3:58 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are there other potential avenues to explore here?

The couch?
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:02 PM on May 15, 2013

What litter do they use? If it's scented, too, that may cause an allergic reaction.

Does anyone in the household smoke?
posted by vickyverky at 4:13 PM on May 15, 2013

I'd look at every cleaning product used in the house, and switch over to white vinegar, toss the scented stuff, etc.

They also eat regular grocery-store dry food supplemented with Fancy Feast.

Maybe switch over to the high-grade stuff the vet sells?
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:17 PM on May 15, 2013

I might get a second opinion from another vet. Scabbing and hair loss can be signs of infection - bacterial, fungal, parasites/mites.
posted by amaire at 5:32 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

A roommate of mine had a cat that was allergic to grain and when we switched her diet to pure tuna fish, she cleared right up. She had rings of missing fur around her tail, it was so heartbreaking, but the pure tuna diet really helped her. It's odd, though, that you'd have an unrelated cat with the same issue. Worth a try to change their diet.

Just be careful to only try one change at a time, and give it some time to take effect, so that you know what you've done that works.
posted by Capri at 5:49 PM on May 15, 2013

Has your mom used any kind of carpet powder? I visited a friend who had used this and my dog had a horrible allergic reaction. It was Arm & Hammer Pet Fresh.
posted by HotToddy at 6:08 PM on May 15, 2013

It may not actually be allergies; it could be psychological/stress based. One of my cats has this and it is called something like "stress licking/stress grooming."

One of my cats kept licking herself obsessively until she made the skin raw and scabby. I took her to the vet, hoping it would be an easily resolved allergy issue. Nope. She is not allergic to anything. It is a stress response. When she's stressed, she licks to soothe herself. This sets in motion a seemingly endless cycle:

1. Cat is stressed.
2. Cat grooms obsessively to self-soothe.
3. Abrasive cat tongue licks off fur and then makes skin raw.
4. Skin is sore and itchy.
5. Cat licks the sore spot in her tiny-brained attempt to make it feel better (and to self-soothe, because now she's even more stressed out).
6. Repeat ad nauseam.

So the only thing I can do for her is apply an ointment called Panolog to help heal the skin and break the cycle at point #4. He said I could try to find out what her stressors are and eliminate them, although with cats this is easier said than done.

Since two of your mom's cats really dislike the other one, it may be making all three of them stressed. This might be causing the overgrooming commences, setting in motion the cycle I outlined above. Even if one is avoiding the other two, they can all smell each others' presence. Your mom could try temporarily rehoming the cat the other two don't like, and seeing if that solves the problem. (And if it does, then she might need to permanently rehome it.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:53 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds like my cat last year. And the scabbing around the neck screams fleas. I've found Bayer Advantage to be more effective than Frontline.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:13 PM on May 15, 2013

Has the vet performed allergy testing to confirm that the cat has allergies? Otherwise, I am 100% with hurdy gurdy girl in her assessment of stress as I too have seen it in one of my cats (8 years old but just started to get stressed when we purchased a new rug for the living room).

We have tried pheromone collars for him as well as the diffusers in our bedroom where he sleeps. They don't necessarily work full stop for Gene, but I think it calms him down a bit so he is not licking as much. Additionally, I am convinced that Rescue Remedy works to a slightly better extent.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 9:15 AM on May 16, 2013

There are rumors among animal shelter volunteers about Frontline no longer working -- so that's one possibility. For me, this is supported by the fact that three animals in the same house having the same 'allergy' seems unlikely. I would guess it was not an allergy but a reaction to something in the environment . . .
posted by MeiraV at 1:49 PM on May 16, 2013

See about having your air ducts cleaned. My cat George was like your guys until we insisted our landlord get the ducts in the building cleaned. Within a few weeks, he was clear of allergies, his scabs were healing and fur was growing back. That was a couple years ago. He's been fine ever since.
posted by MelanieL at 8:12 PM on May 23, 2013

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