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Q: My cat, Patches, developed an allergic reaction to a topical flea spray prescribed by my vet who said there would be no adverse effects. He recently started on a no-grain diet (chicken only) with wet food (tuna with salmon/white fish), and has been on injections and steroid medications for the past year. How do I ease his itch and loss of fur? I’d love to wean him off steroids but his allergy could worsen and we’d be forced to put him to sleep.

A: Skin problems related to allergies (food, contact or air borne) can be very difficult to diagnose especially when Patches is an outdoor cat. He may have food allergies and also be allergic to the environment (i.e. garden, soil, fertilizers, bird droppings, etc) or to air borne allergens (i.e. pollens, dust etc). Food allergies are not as common in cats but when it is present, the feline develops itchy, red patches of raw skin on the face and fur loss.

We recommend a food trial of a restricted protein type and a single flavour and brand for 10 to 12 weeks with no other dry or wet mix. Refrain from giving treats or human food. If you allow him outdoors, he may venture off and catch a bird, an insect or passers-by may even feed him food. I strongly suggest keeping Patches indoors, at least for three months, during which, you can also embark on a food trial.

While keeping him indoors, consider putting him on an internal and external parasite treatment program. Fleas and mites are external parasites that can cause skin irritation, itch and fur loss. Treatments should be followed through continuously for at least 12 weeks. Internal parasite treatment should also be given (wormer tablets) as these parasites can also cause irritation to the skin around the stomach or backside with the cat licking or scratching himself more at those areas. To soothe the itch, you can purchase chamomile shampoo to gently ease the itch. Some people will purchase mint-based or neem oil infused shampoo. Vitamin C, E and flaxseed or omega oils can also be given to strengthen Patches’ immunity to fight and control allergy and skin infections. Herbal or natural formulas will not be able to treat the disease should there be mites or fleas infestations, bacterial or fungal infection or even allergy.

Some cats may present a more serious skin disorder other than skin allergies. These could be related to the cat’s immune system and hormonal levels. Blood tests, skin biopsy and serum testing may all be needed to diagnose the exact problem. A vet must assess Patches’ skin lesion—pattern of itch, fur loss, diet, lifestyle, age, medical history and present medical condition—to get a better understanding.