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While litter boxes are an invaluable addition to a cat household, unfortunately, some cats may develop allergies to their litter. A cat allergic to litter may experience various allergy symptoms, which can impact their overall health and wellbeing.
Signs and symptoms of a cat litter allergy
It can be difficult to spot if your cat is allergic to litter, as the symptoms can be confused with other health problems. The primary signs that cats are allergic to litter are respiratory tract symptoms such as:
- frequent sneezing, especially after using the litter box
- coughing and wheezing
- itchy and watery eyes
- a runny nose with a clear or cloudy discharge
- and acne and facial swelling (in chronic cases).
Cats that are allergic to litter may also suffer from skin irritation and itching. This may lead to sore, inflamed skin and potential hair loss due to excessive scratching. You are more likely to notice this in areas of the body that are in direct contact with cat litter, such as the delicate paw pads. In rare cases, your cat may also experience vomiting and diarrhoea, along with lethargy and loss of appetite.
If your cat suffers from a litter allergy, you may find that they start to avoid the litter box altogether. This can lead to your cat toileting in other areas of the house, or stress-induced urinary tract problems such as cystitis.
Impact of litter allergies on existing conditions
For cats with existing health conditions like asthma, being allergic to litter can exacerbate their symptoms. Asthma is a chronic health condition where inhaled allergens trigger the airways to constrict, leading to breathing difficulties. Different allergens can cause asthma in cats, and certain types of cat litter can frequently be identified as the culprit.
Cat litter allergies can exacerbate other respiratory tract problems, such as sinusitis and post-viral rhinitis. Cats that suffer from other allergies, and those with immune system disorders such as FIV are more likely to develop litter allergies. Flat-faced brachycephalic breeds such as Persian, Himalayan, Exotic Shorthair and British Shorthair cats are also more prone to litter allergies.
Diagnosing cat litter allergy
Diagnosing a cat litter allergy can be tricky, as the symptoms often overlap with other health issues. Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination and may recommend skin or blood tests to rule out other conditions.
With any allergy, the hardest part of the diagnosis is identifying the particular allergen that triggers symptoms in your cat. It is a good idea to take a list of the ingredients in your cat litter to the clinic, so your veterinarian can check for common allergens.
One of the easiest ways to diagnose if a cat is allergic to litter is to switch their cat litter to a different type. Choose one with the lowest risk of allergens, and if your cat’s symptoms resolve, you can be fairly sure that a cat litter allergy was the problem.
Litter ingredients that may trigger allergies
Cat litter allergies are triggered by specific allergens within the litter itself, but the exact trigger can vary from cat to cat.
Some ingredients in cat litter are more likely to trigger allergies. If you suspect your cat has a litter allergy, these ingredients may be the problem:
- Highly scented litter – cat litters with artificial fragrances (eg.lavender) can can cause localised irritation to your cat’s upper respiratory tract.
- Dusty or clay based litter – bentonite clay and silica dust are common ingredients in cat litter. They contain fine dust particles that are a particular problem for cats with asthma.
- Pine or cedar litter – some cats may be sensitive to the natural oils in wood litters which can cause skin allergies or respiratory issues.
- Wheat or corn based litter – is generally safe, but may cause allergic reactions for cats with food intolerances or allergies.
- Recycled paper litter – whilst considered a safe litter, chemicals from the paper recycling process can trigger allergies in some cats.
What to do if your cat is allergic to litter
If your cat is allergic to litter, the first step is to identify and remove the source of the problem. This means switching your cat litter to a type that is less likely to trigger an allergic reaction for them. For most cats, recycled paper, wood-based litter products or a clumping cat litter are usually the safest options.
When buying cat litter:
- Look for cat litter brands marked as natural or hypoallergenic.
- Carefully review the ingredients for any potential allergens such as corn, silica, or bentonite clay.
- Try to find cat litter that is also unscented and dust free.
Some cats can be put off using their litter box by a sudden change of litter. To avoid toileting problems it is a good idea to mix in the new litter with the old litter for a few days to allow your cat to become accustomed to the smell and texture. If no problems are observed at this point, you can switch over to the new litter entirely. Make sure you clean the litter box thoroughly first.
For cats that are allergic to dusty particles in cat litter, use an uncovered litter box in a well-ventilated area of your home. Clean and top-up cat litter boxes in an outdoor area to reduce the levels of airborne dust particles in the house. It is also a good idea to regularly wipe your cat’s fur with a pet-safe wipe to remove litter dust particles that may be ingested when your cat grooms itself.
If your cat is suffering from symptoms due to a cat litter allergy, your veterinarian may prescribe medications such as corticosteroids or antihistamines to ease any discomfort. Take care to stick closely to any medication regime, and keep a record of any changes in your cat’s health during this time.
When dealing with a cat litter allergy, it is important to remember that each cat is unique, and what works for one cat may not work for another. Therefore, it’s essential to work closely with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your cat including suitable litter alternatives.