STVH tips on Dietary Therapy for the Itchy Cat
The following information is intended to provide the cat owner with a basic understanding of the most common underlying causes of itching and allergies. Persistent scratching and grooming by a cat can result in more skin damage and even cause open wounds.
The most common causes of chronic itching fall into three groups: ringworm, external parasites, and allergies.
An allergy is a state of hypersensitivity in which exposure to a harmful substance known as an allergen induces the body's immune system to overreact. The incidence of allergies is increasing in both humans and pets. Cats can rarely have respiratory allergies, more commonly they experience the effects of allergic hypersensitivities as skin problems.
1. Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common skin disease in dogs and cats; the allergy is caused by the flea's saliva, and it only takes a few bites to induce the problem. This is why the owners may not see fleas on the pet.
2. The itchy pet often grooms so much that adult fleas are removed, making them hard to find.
3. Fleas may survive in low numbers year-round so we recommend a year-round flea control.
- Omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements (fish oil)
a. Omega-3 is integral in skin health, anti-inflammatory pathways, immune system function, and brain development.
b. Like a vitamin or mineral; your cat's body cannot manufacture it, it must be eaten in the diet
c. Brands: Not all nutritional supplements are equal (even if the ingredients look identical). The FDA does not regulate nutritional supplements the way drugs are regulated.
d. Be sure to use pure Omega-3 fatty acid supplements and not any that contain any added vitamins. These added vitamins can be toxic to your pet.
e. Side effects: a few dogs may develop diarrhea with fish oils. Other sources of Omega-3 include: Missing Link product, or flaxseed.
- Meat-based high quality diets
a. Corn and other grains such as soy and wheat can exacerbate skin conditions, ear infections and other allergic symptoms.
b. The first ingredient in the food should be meat. The ingredient list should have NO CORN, NO WHEAT, NO SOY, and NO GLUTEN. Minor ingredients such as preservatives or dyes are also potential allergens.
c. Places to look for meat-based diets include:
i. Southtown Veterinary Hospital; Blue Buffalo
ii. Tractor Supply (TSC); Blue Buffalo, Taste of the Wild, 4-Health
iii. Lucky Dog Pet Spa; Origin, canine caviar, back to basics, and others
iv. Pet CO / Petdepo: usually a nice selection ( before you buy - ask about the refund policy)
a. Use quality treats also! Most treats contains a lot of grains and byproducts.
b. One treat with grains can start the allergy symptoms up all over again.
c. This goes for any table scraps and human snacks.
Secondary infections: Allergies are often the underlying cause of recurring skin and or ear infections. Bacterial and yeast infections, though secondary to the allergy, can cause an increase in your pet's level of itching. Long term treatment with antibiotics may be required.
Dietary therapy does not eliminate allergies: it helps your pet's body handle them more appropriately. Dietary therapy is successful in varying degrees, depending upon each individual dog.
If dietary therapy alone is not successful, or only moderately successful, then other options are available:
1. Symptomatic drug therapy can help to reduce itching. Steroids are often employed to stop the itch. However without addressing the underlying cause, the itching will return.
2. Anti-histamines: Zyrtec (ceterizine, generic), Claritine, or Benadryl. Ask for dose instructions. We usually recommend Zyrtec or the generic first because the dose is given once per day.
3. Limited ingredient diets: single protein and carbohydrate sources (not mixed) with new proteins that your cat has never eaten. (Example: duck, venison) please ask us for more specifics.
4. Allergy testing: blood testing in the laboratory that will point to specific allergens. Allergy shots may then be available to "retrain" your dog's immune system.
Some suggested links for Cat Food: