What can I give my cat overthecounter for allergies?
Why I Love Zyrtec for Cats
Zyrtec (cetirizine) is an antihistamine approved for use in humans to treat allergy symptoms. In veterinary medicine it’s used in both cats and dogs for the same indication . and more.
For dogs, I’ll turn to Zyrtec when Benadryl (diphenhydramine) fails. Usually, these are the itchy dogs: the hot spot-ridden, flea allergic, food allergic and/or atopic (inhalant allergic). Except in older dogs whose kidney function I carefully screen before embarking on a course, Zyrtec has proved incredibly safe and moderately effective. The ability to buy it OTC (over the counter) and dose it only once daily for some dogs — not to mention its less drowse-inducing action — has enlisted my fandom.
The only drawback? Its brand name version is more expensive, meaning it tends to be pricier than drugs like Benadryl. And for a drug that sometimes has to be administered for weeks on end, that’s no small factor. Luckily, it’s off patent now and you can purchase generics for significantly less than the prettily packaged stuff.
Moderate dog success notwithstanding, where Zyrtec really shines is in my kitty patients. Though it doesn’t work for all itchy cats, it does seem to help quite a bit — far more than Benadryl’s diphenhydramine and significantly more than chlorpheniramine (my former go-to antihistamine for cats).
The dermatologists on VIN (the Veterinary Information Network) seem to agree: Good, safe stuff for cats, this Zyrtec. Probably more effective than the alternatives. And definitely easier because, for cats, we now know that once-a day dosing is perfectly appropriate.
The best news for felines, however, is not just that Zyrtec seems to help for their itchiness, but also that it may help treat eosinophilic diseases.
What’s that, you ask? They’re a collection of (typically) skin, airway and intestinal diseases cats suffer much more frequently than dogs. They can cause stomatitis (oral inflammation), rodent ulcers (unsightly upper lip lesions), eosinophilic plaques (crusty sores), intestinal ulceration and diarrhea, and bronchitis, tracheitis and asthma, among other problems.
Lately, it’s been determined that a significant percentage of cats affected by these eosinophilic diseases respond well to Zyrtec. Complete remission of symptoms is actually possible for some once this drug is initiated. So far, this seems to be true for all eosinophilic cases, save those of the respiratory variety (Who knows why?).
A recent case demonstrates the possibilities: A cat remanded to lifelong use of prednisone for her eosinophilic skin disease, manifested primarily in her ears and intestines, was weaned off this harsh, immunosuppressive steroid while Zyrtec was initiated.
I expressed tremendous concern that all the symptoms would almost certainly return, though perhaps at a more manageable level than before the steroid usage. Yet six months later there’s no sign of a break in her remission. No diarrhea. No ear lesions. Nothing. The cat is more playful and happy than she’s ever been.
Though this case is undoubtedly not the norm, the shocking success of it speaks to the need to study this drug in more detail. Currently, most of the evidence in favor of its use comes from the dermatologic community. Too bad the now vast supply of it is primarily anecdotal.
Luckily, the human medical community has been active in amassing literature on Zyrtec and eosinophilic diseases, leading the veterinary community to begin more aggressively employing it in the hopes that one of the most frustrating feline disease complexes we see in cats can be successfully addressed.
Signs your pet has seasonal allergies — and what you can do to help
Some days it seems like you step outside into a thick cloud of pollen, ragweed, or even worse, mold. Hello, seasonal allergies!
Thankfully humans have remedies that let us enjoy the outdoors without itchy eyes and inflamed sinuses. But what about your pet? If you notice your pet is scratching themselves, sneezing more than normal, licking their paws, or shedding worse than before, they too could be suffering from seasonal allergies.
Pet seasonal allergy symptoms to look for
Dogs and cats show similar allergy symptoms as humans, yet they experience them most through their skin. Excessive scratching likely means itchy, irritated skin. Here are a few more symptoms to watch out for:
- Scratching and biting their coat or skin
- Red, inflamed, or infected skin
- Excessive shedding
- Compulsive paw licking in dogs
- Boot scoots or licking their anal glands
- Chronic ear infections or red, waxy ears (common for dogs who are prone to ear problems in the first place)
- Respiratory issues, such as difficulty breathing, coughing, or wheezing (more common in cats)
How to help soothe seasonal pet allergies
Like humans, there’s no cure for your pet’s seasonal allergies. But that doesn’t mean they have to suffer.
Try an allergy pill
You can safely give your pet an over-the-counter anti-histamine to relieve their symptoms. The dosage depends on your pet’s unique needs and their weight. So, before stuffing any allergy medication into their mouth, check with your veterinarian.
Allergy medicines that are safe for your pet include:
- Benedryl (diphendyrmine)
- Claritin (loraditine) *never ever give your pet Claritin-D
- Zyrtec (Cetirizine)
- Chlor Trimton (chlorpheniramine)
- Generic brands for any of the medications above
NOTE: If you’re going to try an allergy medication, do not use a decongestant or anything that contains pseudoephedrine (like Claritin-D). Even small amounts of pseudoephedrine can be lethal in dogs.
These medications work best as preventatives. If you know your pet reacts to hay fever, start treating them as soon as the allergy season begins to set in.
Manage irritation with other remedies
If you’re wary about giving your pet a pill, there are other ways to soothe your pet’s symptoms, including natural remedies.
- Flea and tick preventative. Ensure your best friend’s skin won’t be irritated by fleas.
- Anti-itch sprays or creams. Topical treatments will provide temporary relief, giving your pet a break from all that scratching. Only use products that are made for pets, as products marketed for humans may be ineffective or toxic to your furry friend.
- Baths. If your pet likes baths, you’re lucky. If they aren’t a fan, get those treats ready. Baths remove allergens or pollen on your pet’s skin, relieving symptoms and soothing skin. Look for shampoos containing oatmeal, which helps to moisturize skin, ease itching, and minimize inflammation. Again, only use shampoos and soaps made for pets. Animals and humans have a different pH level, so products made for people can cause additional irritation to pets.
- Wipe off coat and paws. Similar to a bath, a quick wipe down of your pet’s coat, skin, and paws each time they return from outdoors will help remove excess pollen and allergens when a full bath isn’t possible. Use a moist cloth or hypoallergenic, fragrance-free grooming wipe. This may be especially helpful if your pet’s irritation is localized to their paws.
- Fatty acid supplements. Omega fatty acids found in many fish oil supplements are another way to relieve itchy skin or prevent skin infection. Plus, they’ll help strengthen and soften your pet’s coat.
- Local honey. This tip is strictly for dog owners. Local honey is often made from the same pollen that causes seasonal allergies. The idea is that by ingesting the honey, you or your dog will become more accustomed to the pollen. As a result, your allergies will be less bothersome. According to the Mayo Clinic, these results haven’t been consistently duplicated in clinical studies. Thankfully, honey is a sweet treat for both you and your dog, so it can’t hurt to try.
- Avoid allergens. The best way to relieve or reduce symptoms is to reduce exposure. This might be the toughest option as it’s hard to keep a dog or an outdoor cat from going outside, but limiting time outdoors on high-pollen days will help manage symptoms.
If your pet’s allergies are severe, your veterinarian may prescribe steroids to help control inflammation. We know watching your animal suffer from allergies can be just as difficult as dealing with them yourself. No matter what method works best for you, we hope your pet is back to wanting extra belly scratches for pleasure — not allergy relief — in no time!
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