What is Flower Allergy?

Pollen particles are the male spores of a seed producing plant, and are essential for fertilization. These microscopic grains are transported from one plant to another by insects, such as bees, or they can be released into the air and carried on the wind. Airborne pollen is primarily responsible for a pollen allergy, which can also be called hay fever. Flowering plants that release airborne pollen are often weeds, and include ragweed, which is responsible for many feline seasonal allergies.

If your cat has an allergy to flower pollen, he may experience coughing and other respiratory issues, as well as skin problems, which are often termed atopic dermatitis. Pollen is generally inhaled, although it can be absorbed through the skin if your cat comes into direct contact with it. Since most flowers pollinate during specific seasons, symptoms generally appear when the pollen is released into the air.

Symptoms of Flower Allergy in Cats

Symptoms of an allergy to flower pollen are usually seen seasonally, and may only last a few weeks at a time, or during those periods of high pollen counts during the year. A pollen allergy can cause respiratory issues, and often skin problems that can manifest on any areas of the body, but are seen most commonly on the abdomen, legs, feet, neck, face, ears, and above the eyes. Skin issues usually begin as severe itching which causes your cat to groom excessively, further irritating the skin. Symptoms include:

  • Excessive licking, scratching, and grooming 
  • Rubbing face excessively on objects 
  • Itchy skin 
  • Scabby skin
  • Thinning hair
  • Partial or complete hair loss
  • Reddened skin
  • Ulcers on lips
  • Leathery patches of skin 
  • Skin rashes
  • Multiple bumps or scabs, most commonly on the neck and back rear areas
  • Skin papules, pustules, or crusts 
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Eye discharge
  • Excessive hairballs 
  • Excessive ear wax production 
  • Cracked paw pads

Causes of Flower Allergy in Cats

An allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts to a foreign substance that has entered the body, termed an allergen or antigen. After your cat’s body has become sensitized to flower pollen, repeated exposures cause the immune system to overproduce antibodies specific to the pollen in an attempt to remove the invaders from the body. This action then causes the release of large amounts of histamine, the chemical that causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Cats have less histamine cells than other mammals. The cells in their ears do contain histamine, which makes the ears particularly sensitive to allergens. Pollen gains entry into your cat’s body through inhalation into the respiratory system, or direct contact with the skin or ears.

Diagnosis of Flower Allergy in Cats

A diagnosis can be a bit tricky, as there can be many reasons for itchy skin, dermatitis, and respiratory issues. After a physical exam, your veterinarian will likely ask about the time frame of the symptoms, your cat’s diet, and exposure to fleas and other animals. If the symptoms are only seen during times of the year coinciding with the pollination of local flowers and weeds, then a diagnosis of a flower allergy can be assumed. However, your veterinarian will run further tests to rule out other causes and narrow down the specific allergy.

A urinalysis and bloodwork can help to rule out causes such as parasites, bacteria, fungus, and viruses. Allergy testing can be done with a blood or skin test, and in some cases can detect the specific allergen your cat is sensitive to. To rule out any food allergies or sensitivities that can cause similar symptoms, your veterinarian may recommend a diet trial, which involves a special diet fed over a specified period of time. Skin biopsies may also be taken and tested to ensure that allergies are indeed the problem.

Treatment of Flower Allergy in Cats

The best treatment for an allergy is to remove the source of the allergen. Unfortunately, this may not always be possible. You can reduce your cat’s exposure to flower pollen by lessening or eliminating his time outside, keeping your windows closed, and using allergy air filters to keep your indoor air clean.

Your veterinarian may also recommend medications to help your cat with his symptoms. Antihistamines may be prescribed, but are not always effective in cats. Corticosteroids are often effective, and work by blocking the allergic reaction. They do, however, run the risk of side effects such as diabetes, and are not recommended for long term use. Immunosuppressants, such as cyclosporine, may also be used, especially when steroids are not an option, but can also cause negative side effects, such as anorexia and bone marrow suppression.

Desensitization immunotherapy can produce good results without the side effects. These are injections that are created based on the results of diagnostic testing, and are specially formulated for your cat’s specific allergy. Given weekly, the injections can help to reprogram the immune system’s response to that allergen, causing less of an allergic reaction. Injections can continue for several years.

Other treatments include frequent bathing with medicated or hypoallergenic shampoos to reduce the exposure to the allergen through the skin and to provide relief from itchy skin. Omega-3 fish oils can be beneficial to add to the diet. For chronic ear problems, your veterinarian may prescribe a cat safe ear cleaner, anti-inflammatory medications, and even a change in diet. 

Recovery of Flower Allergy in Cats

An allergy to flower pollen cannot be cured, and will likely be a lifelong condition affecting your cat. It can, however, be managed. You may be given medications to administer at home, and may need to schedule future appointments for immunotherapy. Soothing baths can be helpful in reducing the skin irritation your cat may have.

Prevent an allergic reaction in your cat by reducing exposure to flower pollen using some simple strategies.

  • Vacuum your home frequently
  • Keep windows closed, especially during pollen season
  • Wipe windowsills down if windows are left open
  • Use HEPA filters in air filtration systems to minimize pollen in the air
  • If your cat is an outdoor feline, wipe his paws when he returns inside
  • Reduce or eliminate outdoor time for your cat, especially during pollen season