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We all know how horrible it is to have allergies or a cold.
The constant sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes are sure to make your day pretty bleak. Well, our feline friends feel the same way! Unfortunately, colds and allergies have a lot of overlapping symptoms, so it can be hard to distinguish between the two and get your cat the help it needs.
When my kitty is sneezing or coughing, I do three things to answer the question, “Does my cat have allergies or a cold?”: I take note of when my cat’s symptoms are at their worst, keep on the lookout for skin irritation or digestive upset, and, if all else fails, I go to my vet for a professional opinion.
In this article, I cover each of these tricks in detail so that you can identify the cause of your cat’s symptoms, too! I also give a brief overview of each condition and go over whether or not you should take your feline to the vet for treatment.
What are the Symptoms of Allergies in Cats?
Just like us, cats can be allergic to various things in their environment. The most common allergic reactions occur because of a sensitivity to environmental substances (e.g., pollen or dust), flea bites, or certain foods. For example, one of my cats is allergic to chicken, so I have to ensure I avoid feeding her foods that could cause an allergic reaction.
When your feline comes into contact with an allergen, its body tries to get rid of the substance as quickly as possible. This is what causes the variety of symptoms associated with allergies.
The most commonly occurring symptoms in cats include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Coughing and sneezing
- Ear infections
- Swollen, sensitive paws
- Excessive grooming
- Red or dry skin
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
What are the Symptoms of Cat Colds?
Cat colds, otherwise known as feline upper respiratory infections, are a common illness among cats and are very similar to the colds we humans experience. Various bacteria and viruses can cause these infections, but they are not considered usually life-threatening. It is only in rare cases where secondary infections develop that the condition may become fatal.
Thankfully, cat colds cannot be transmitted to humans, but they are quickly passed between cats when they come into close contact with one another. One of my kitties caught a cold once, and I soon had a whole house of sick felines to deal with!
The symptoms and severity of cat colds can vary greatly, but one of the first things you may notice is that your cat has watery eyes and sneezes all the time.
After 24 hours, other symptoms start to appear as well. These may include:
- Runny nose
- Mild fever
- Congestion/open-mouth breathing
- Lack of appetite
Does My Cat Have Allergies or a Cold?
As you’ve probably noticed by now, there is much overlap in the symptoms caused by allergies and cat colds. For example, it is common to see a cat coughing but no hairball being brought up in both conditions. Likewise, both colds and allergies cause sneezing, wheezing, and watery eyes. So, how can you tell which your cat is dealing with?
In some cases, your feline may show symptoms only associated with one of the two conditions. For example, if your cat has a fever and is lethargic, it is probably suffering from a cold, as allergies do not affect body temperature.
However, I have listed below the three easier ways you can use to tell colds and allergies apart:
1. Looking at When Symptoms Worsen
First off, you need to try and pay attention to when your feline’s symptoms are at their worst. While symptoms caused by a cat cold are present all the time (at least until the infection has cleared), those relating to allergies will come and go based on your cat’s exposure to the allergen.
The higher the concentration of the allergen in the environment, the more severe their symptoms. For example, my cat’s allergies play up right after she has eaten chicken, but yours may occur after your kitty has been to the litter box (litter allergy) or during the summer (hay fever).
On the other hand, if your cat is coughing with its tongue out consistently, you are probably dealing with a cold.
I remember this by using a simple alliteration: COLDS are CONSISTENT, but ALLERGIES AREN’T.
2. Signs of Skin Irritation or Digestive Upset
Skin irritation and digestive upset are two easy-to-spot symptoms that aren’t present in both conditions: they can be triggered by some allergies but are never caused by a cat cold. So, if your cat has a dry nose and is not eating, is vomiting, or has red, scabby skin, you are nearly always dealing with an allergic reaction.
However, you should also be aware that colds can lead to the formation of mouth ulcers, which would cause your feline pain when eating. I have confused this as a sign that my kitty has had an allergy in the past, as it can lead to a loss of appetite, just as allergies can.
3. Get a Professional Veterinary Opinion
Finally, we have the most accurate way of determining if your cat has allergies or a cold: get a professional opinion from your vet. I think this is the only way to know for sure what condition you are dealing with, as your vet can run a series of tests that will give your feline an official diagnosis.
To diagnose a cat cold, your vet must identify which bacteria or virus is responsible. Cell samples taken from your kitty’s eyes, nose, or throat usually reveal the cause if it is viral, while a conjunctival scraping can be used to identify a bacterial infection.
When testing for an allergy, blood or skin tests will be carried out instead. Blood tests involve a sample of your cat’s blood being taken and thoroughly examined in a lab. For a skin test, a possible allergen will be injected just under the skin. If a hive appears, your feline is allergic to that substance.
These tests are very effective and may be used together to work out what is causing your cat’s symptoms. Based on their finding, your vet can then work to improve their unpleasant symptoms.
Should I Take My Cat to the Vet?
Whether your feline is suffering from allergies or a cold, it’s best to visit the vet. This is especially true if you notice your cat is breathing heavy and lethargic. Although these are possible symptoms of a cold, they may also be caused by a more serious medical issue, such as congestive heart failure.
Either way, your vet can help ease your feline’s symptoms and improve its quality of life. In the case of allergies, they’ll likely help you prevent your kitty from coming into close contact with the allergen and prescribe a daily medication (such as antihistamines or cortisone pills). If your cat is breathing fast and suffers from asthma, they may also prescribe medications to open your cat’s airway.
While there is no immediate cure for a viral cold, your vet will be able to treat individual symptoms. For example, they may prescribe medications to help with eye or nose discharge. Bacterial infections, however, can be treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, if your feline’s cold is severe, it may need to be hospitalized for a short time to undergo more intensive treatments.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
When your cat gets sick, it can sometimes be hard to identify what is wrong.
Allergies and colds are common conditions in cats with overlapping symptoms, such as sneezing and coughing. As such, it can be hard to tell what’s wrong with your furry friend.
The question, “Does my cat have allergies or a cold?” is never easy to answer, but I’ve found three things that I think could help: look at when your feline’s symptoms are at their worst, look for signs of skin irritation and digestive upset, or seek your vet’s advice. In my opinion, this last option is the only way to be 100% sure of what you’re dealing with.
No matter what condition your cat has, I think it’s probably a good idea to get them checked out by your vet. They’ll be able to help ease your feline’s symptoms and improve their quality of life. And the happier your cat is, the happier you are, right?!