What are Ragweed Allergies?
There are many species of ragweed plants throughout North America that put out large amounts of pollen in the fall. This pollen acts as an allergen for several species of animal, including cats. An allergic reaction occurs in an animal when the immune system treats a harmless substance (allergen) as though it were a harmful substance like a virus or bacteria. Allergies can develop at any time in your pet's life and ragweed is a common allergen in many species. Ragweed pollen is an inhalant allergy, although, in cats the allergic reaction tends to affect the skin more than the respiratory system. Skin irritation and inflammation resulting in itching is a common manifestation of ragweed allergy in cats. Treatment by your veterinarian can greatly reduce symptoms of ragweed allergy in your cat.
Symptoms of Ragweed Allergies in Cats
Symptoms of ragweed allergy in cats tend to be dermal more than respiratory, however, respiratory symptoms can occur alongside dermal reactions or independent of them. Additional ragweed allergy symptoms that may occasionally occur include a runny nose and watery eyes.
- Dermal symptoms
- Skin lesions or sores
- Hair loss
- Cat chewing or biting at skin
- Ears may be especially affected
- Breathing difficulty
Causes of Ragweed Allergies in Cats
There are many types of ragweed plants common throughout North America. Ragweed allergic reactions tend to be more of a problem in warmer climates, either due to the species involved or to a combination of environmental factors present in warmer areas. Ragweed is a common allergen in many species of animals including humans and is seasonal, occurring in the fall when ragweed plants put out copious amounts of wind-borne pollen. Inhaled pollen acts as an allergen causing an immune system overreaction to a harmless but foreign substance.
- There may be a genetic susceptibility to ragweed allergy as domestic mixed breeds, Abyssinian and Devon Rex cats seem to be more predisposed to respiratory symptoms.
- Usually, cats with inhalant allergies react to several allergens in the environment, not just ragweed, so other possible allergens should be identified if your cat is showing symptoms.
- Allergies tend to get worse with time and repeated exposures.
- If your pet has allergies you may want to avoid vaccinations during allergy season as they stimulate your pet's immune system and may contribute to your cat's reaction.
Diagnosis of Ragweed Allergies in Cats
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and collect information on your cat's medical history to determine if an allergic reaction is likely, or if another condition may account for your pet's symptoms. Factors like geographic location, season and exposure to allergens will be taken into account. If allergy is suspected your vet will perform intradermal and serologic tests to check for reactions to allergens and check immune system functioning. Tests to check for other conditions may also be ordered. Causes of dermal reaction such as fleas and other parasites that may cause similar symptoms will need to be ruled out.
Treatment of Ragweed Allergies in Cats
There are two main types of treatment of ragweed allergy in cats: medication and desensitization.
Your veterinarian may prescribe steroids to treat your pet's allergy. Steroids have minimal side effects in cats and are usually effective at relieving allergy symptoms. They do not, however, provide a cure for the allergy, which will return with reexposure to the allergen, requiring treatment to be repeated.
Allergen immunotherapy involves repeated desensitization of your cat to the allergen by exposure to small amounts of the allergen in a controlled environment. Multiple treatments are required in which allergen exposure is gradually increased, until the cat’s immune system is “trained” not to react to the ragweed allergen. This treatment is time-consuming and associated with an increased cost, however, it is usually effective, and if successful the allergy will not recur and require further treatment seasonally.
Recovery of Ragweed Allergies in Cats
If your cat is treated with steroids, continuing steroid therapy and limiting your cat's exposure to ragweed pollen by keeping them indoors and vacuuming and dusting your home, will help your pet recover. Medicated baths may help reduce dermal symptoms. Additionally, a diet low in grains that can cause immune system sensitivity, may help reduce allergy symptoms in your cat. Your cat may have repeated allergic reactions seasonally that may increase over time and that will require further treatment.
Desensitization therapy will require multiple visits to your veterinarian for treatment but once completed, allergic reaction should not recur seasonally.