Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you. Diagnosis is usually made during examination by the presence of miliary dermatitis around the back and base of the tail and often sores around the neck.
He may also notice fleas and/or flea dirt in your cat’s coat. It should be noted though that just one bite is enough to trigger a hypersensitivity and in some cases, no fleas will be found on your cat because he is so efficient at removing them during grooming. This is particularly common in extremely sensitive cats who groom excessively.
Sometimes a piece of white paper will be placed underneath your cat while his fur is gently roughed up. The paper is then sprayed with water, and if any flea dirt is present, it will dissolve, leaving a reddish appearance.
As there are many other causes of miliary dermatitis in cats, your veterinarian may also recommend skin patch testing (or intradermal testing). This involves shaving an area of skin and injecting the area with small amounts of common allergens to see if your cat mounts an allergic response to any.
Specialised blood tests can also confirm flea allergy dermatitis by detecting IgE antibodies in the blood.
Treatment involves several modalities including killing the fleas on your cat and in the home and relieving symptoms associated with a flea allergy.
The only permanent solution for flea allergy dermatitis is to completely eliminate fleas from your cat and the environment. As well as that, preventing re-infestation of fleas by regular flea treatment. This involves a two-pronged approach. Treating your cat and treating the environment (including your cat’s bedding). Treat all household pets for fleas at the same time.
Treating secondary skin infections caused by excessive biting and scratching of the skin. This may involve a course of antibiotics, medicated shampoo and or a topical medication.
Antihistamines or oral tablets or steroid injections to control inflammation and reduce itching. Long-term steroid use can produce side effects, therefore the dosage should be as small as possible and treatment limited until your cat has healed and the flea problem has been controlled.
Anti-inflammatory injection to reduce the itching.
Hyposensitization (desensitisation). This involves injecting minute amounts of flea antigen into the cat in the hope that it will re-programme the immune system so it’s not hypersensitive to flea antigen. Treatment has shown limited success, unfortunately.
Antibiotics to treat a secondary bacterial infection.
If your cat has been diagnosed with flea allergy dermatitis, he should be treated for tapeworm as ingestion of fleas during grooming can transmit the parasite.
Strict flea control is the best way to avoid/limit your cat’s exposure to fleas and therefore flea bite allergy. There is a range of flea products on the market. Flea collars are not as effective as the newer topical flea products or oral tablets to controlling fleas. Some flea products are becoming less effective as fleas build up a resistance. Your veterinarian is the best person to speak to in regards to flea control products.
Flea control safety:
If you are using a topical flea product, avoid shampooing your cat afterward as this can wash off the product.
Don’t mix flea control products unless your veterinarian recommends it. This can lead to a doubling up of the active ingredients and cause toxicity.
Never use a flea product designed for dogs on your cat. Dog flea products contain different ingredients which are highly toxic to cats.