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Home > Cats > Can Cats Be Allergic to Litter? (Vet Answer)

Can Cats Be Allergic to Litter? (Vet Answer)

black cat going out from a litter box

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Dr. Iulia Mihai Photo

Written by

Dr. Iulia Mihai

Veterinarian, DVM MSc

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Does your cat scratch often or have watery eyes and a runny nose? If the answer is yes, then your pet may be allergic to something. Cat owners overlook many irritants because they are found in a wide range of products that are used on a daily basis, such as cat litter. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine the ingredient or substance to which your cat is allergic. For this reason, you will have to go through an elimination process with a veterinarian to determine the cause of your cat’s allergy.

Allergies in cats can occur to any ingredient, at any time, including cat litter. In most cases, the allergy occurs after the cat’s body has been exposed to that particular allergen several times.

Although a litter allergy can develop at any age, adult cats (1–6 years old) are more prone to it. An increased predisposition is also observed in cats that already suffer from other allergies because their body is sensitized. The most allergenic cat litter is one that contains fragrance, dust, or mold.

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Can Cats Be Allergic to Cat Litter?

Litter allergies in cats are not that common, but they can occur. Like any allergy, the cat’s body must be exposed to the allergenic substance repeatedly for a reaction to occur. An allergen is a harmless substance that the cat’s body perceives as dangerous. For this reason, the pet’s immune system triggers the immune defense mechanisms against the “aggressor,” the allergic reaction.1

Allergens can cause your cat to have an allergic reaction if inhaled or through direct skin contact.

Among the most common components of cat litter that can trigger allergies are:
  • Mold
  • Dust
  • Fragrances
  • Walnut
  • Wood shavings
two cat litter boxes on wood floor indoors
Image By: RacheeLynn, Shutterstock

Mold

Mold can grow on the surface of certain types of cat litter, such as those made of corn. Cats that inhale mold spores can develop an allergy.

Dust

Clay cat litter usually creates dust when the pet digs in it or when it is scooped out. Sodium bentonite (a common ingredient with water-absorption properties) is the compound believed to be related to dust formation in cat litter.

Fragrances

Fragrances are considered common allergy triggers in cats. They are used to control unpleasant odors.

Ginger cat covered his nose with his paw because of the strong smell
Image By: Andrei Metelev, Shutterstock

Walnuts

Some cats can be allergic to walnuts and as a result, to cat litter that is nut-based.

Wood Shavings

More sensitive cats can also be allergic to wood shavings. Although it is a relatively good substrate because it absorbs urine and moisture, it is dusty and can irritate your cat’s respiratory system.

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Clinical Signs of Litter Allergy in Cats

Allergies in cats usually manifest through intense itching, scratching, and skin changes, but digestive and/or respiratory signs may also occur.

The clinical signs of a cat litter allergy include the following:
  • Itching
  • Excessive scratching and grooming
  • Hair loss
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Respiratory problems, such as coughing, wheezing, or gagging
  • Digestive problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea
  • Behavioral changes (your cat may start refusing to use the litter box)

Itching is the main sign of allergies and can be observed for several other diseases (parasites, infections, etc.). It can be localized or generalized. Commonly affected areas include the limbs, face, and ears. Excessive scratching can lead to self-mutilation, crusts, open wounds, and secondary skin infections.

If your cat has inhaled the allergen, you may notice more respiratory signs because it can be irritating to the respiratory system. In other words, if you see your cat sneezing often and having breathing problems, watery eyes, and a runny nose, they may have inhaled the allergen (fragrance, mold, or litter dust).

Cat sneeze
Image By: Sergio Huainigg, Pixabay

Diagnosis of Litter Allergy in Cats

When your cat starts showing signs of an allergy, it is recommended to take them to the vet. The veterinarian will ask you about your cat’s medical history and present signs and will examine your cat. They can also take hair, epithelial cells, or blood samples. For common allergies, such as pollen, fleas, mold, or dust mites allergies, your vet can perform intradermal tests.

If you suspect that your pet is allergic to cat litter, bring a sample to the vet. Don’t forget to write down the name and ingredients too, as these can help the veterinarian determine what is causing the allergy.

The vet may also recommend changing your cat’s litter to see if the allergy still occurs, which is part of the elimination method. Once you have changed the litter, monitor your cat closely to see if they still develop allergy signs. It can take up to 2 weeks before your cat shows any improvement, so you must be patient.

How to Help Your Allergic Cat

Unfortunately, there is no cure for a cat’s allergies. That said, you can offer your pet a comfortable life with the help of symptomatic treatment. Another option is, together with the veterinarian, to try to find the source of the allergen and eliminate it from your cat’s life.

If you suspect that your cat’s litter is causing your cat’s allergies, you should change it. See what ingredients the current one contains, and try to find one with different ingredients. If the allergy signs are mostly respiratory, opt for odorless and dust-free litter. Also, make sure your cat’s litter box is in a ventilated area. If you use a covered litter box, switch to an open one.

All that said, do not change the litter suddenly unless your vet tells you to do so, as you risk making your cat stop wanting to use the litter box entirely. This advice is especially useful to cat owners who have had problems in the past.

Transition to the new cat litter gradually, mixing the old one with the new one for a short period and then changing it completely. Keep in mind that you may not find a litter that doesn’t cause problems on the first try. Also, be sure to give your cat a few weeks to get used to the new litter.

If your cat’s allergy signs seem to improve, continue to use the new litter. If the allergy signs do not improve or get worse, change your cat’s litter again and monitor your pet.

You can also add omega-3 and -6 fatty acids to your cat’s diet. They restore the lipid layer of the skin, which is a protective barrier against the penetration of allergens through the skin.

sad lonely cat
Image By: medveda, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Although rare, litter allergies can occur. The clinical signs of litter allergy are the same as any other allergy. So, you need to monitor your cat closely for a while to notice what causes their allergy. If you think that your pet is allergic to cat litter, change the substrate. Contact the veterinarian if the allergy signs worsen.


Featured Image Credit: Litter Robot, Unsplash

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