Severe Allergies & Testing
By Molly Strothkamp
September 14, 2010
I adopted Lucy from the Humane Society when she was 3 months old. She was a feisty, cross-eyed, energetic
little chatterbox. When I walked by her kennel at the Humane Society, she reached out with her paw and tapped
me on my shoulder while meowing at me. I was in love - she was adorable!
During her first year, Lucy was mostly healthy with the exception of a severe reaction to her vaccinations. She
was treated with fluids, was kept under observation and recovered. As a result of the reaction, her veterinarian
recommended no further vaccinations. It scared and worried me to see her so ill but she recovered quickly and
seemed like a healthy kitty.
|I was so worried about her, I monitored her very closely. Lucy spent a lot of time at the vet’s office but every test
they did came back normal, it was very frustrating. Something was obviously wrong with my sweet kitty but the
vet didn’t have an answers. At this time, Lucy also started developing more sores on her skin, including acne on
her chin and lesions on her ears and forehead. The vet gave her another steroid shot and her skin and tummy
problems cleared up immediately. Unfortunately, this was a short reprieve and things were about to go from bad
to worse. Four months later, Lucy developed a severe ear infection as well as diarrhea. The vet also noticed
lesions on Lucy’s ears and head. The vet shaved parts of Lucy’s head to get a better look at her lesions and to
clean her skin. Lucy went back into an E-collar and she received another steroid shot. This time, the shot
stopped the diarrhea but Lucy’s skin problems continued to get worse. We were at the vet’s office constantly.
The vet gave her another steroid shot but the skin problems did not improve. Lucy’s fur fell out and her skin
began peeling off, mostly along the lines where the vet had shaved her head. The vet was very concerned that
the steroids were having a negative effect on Lucy’s skin.
Lucy was constantly in the E-collar to prevent scratching and she was miserable. The skin problems continued
to spread, affecting her front legs, her neck, and eventually her torso. She was in very bad shape. The vet
wondered if she might have food allergies. I switched her to a limited ingredient prescription food, but her fur
continued to fall out and her skin continued to peel off in large pieces (dime and nickel-sized, sometimes larger).
She was covered in scabs and lesions. The vet recommended that I wait 12 weeks for the old food and/or
"possible allergens" to leave her body but I couldn’t watch Lucy suffer for another 3 months. I requested
(demanded) a referral to a veterinary dermatologist.
The dermatologist diagnosed Lucy with possible food allergies and ringworm! It turns out that a kitty with a
compromised immune system like Lucy is especially susceptible to ringworm and the dermatologist also said that
all the steroid shots had fed the ringworm and made it get worse! We treated the ringworm, Lucy stayed on the
limited ingredient diet and things improved within 6 weeks. Her skin cleared up, fur started growing back, the
diarrhea stopped, and Lucy was finally able to get out of the E-collar (she had been in it for more than 4 months).
I was so optimistic that we had turned a corner and Lucy would continue to improve. But the diarrhea returned
about 4 months later. The vet recommended switching Lucy to a new prescription limited ingredient food. The
diarrhea cleared up for a few months and then returned so we switched Lucy to a new limited ingredient food. I
never had a clear sense of what she was allergic to but kept hoping that eventually we would find the right food.
This cycle went on for about 2 years when we started running out of limited ingredient food options. Lucy
continued to develop lesions on her ears and head (we always cultured for ringworm after the previous ringworm
epidemic. Luckily, the lesions were not ringworm). Throughout all of this, Lucy continued to eat and drink
normally and when she wasn’t having tummy troubles/diarrhea, she was still very active and playful.
In July of 2008, Lucy started to have severe diarrhea again. We switched her to a new, hypoallergenic
prescription food. This time, the food change did not clear up her tummy troubles. She got very ill with constant
diarrhea, sometimes bloody. She started to lose weight quickly and the vet began to suspect IBD. We discussed
diagnostic options and the plan was to have a biopsy to determine whether Lucy did had IBD. We were waiting
to schedule the biopsy with a specialized vet when things went from really, really bad to absolutely awful.
On a Saturday morning, I found Lucy hiding under the bed, covered in horrible lesions on her head that had
sprung up over night. Her head and ears were raw and covered in blood and her diarrhea was really bad. I
rushed her in to the vet. Our regular vet was not working so we saw a new vet. The new vet took one look at her
and asked me, “What is she allergic to?” I had no answer. The new vet then asked me if Lucy had ever had an
allergy blood test. I’d never even heard of an allergy blood test! At that point, I think I would have agreed to
anything if it might help my Lucy to feel better. I filled out forms about Lucy’s history of symptoms; the vet took
her blood and sent it in to the allergy testing company.
|When Lucy was 1 ½ years old, she developed a sore between the toes on her
back foot. The vet wasn’t sure what caused the sore, and thought it might be an
injury. The sore was treated with medication that didn't work, so the vet gave Lucy
a steroid shot and the sore healed afterwards. This was also Lucy’s first week in
an E-collar (cone). She was miserable and it broke my heart. Lucy is such an
active, athletic kitty. She enjoys playing fetch and zooming around the house and
she wasn’t able to do that while wearing the cone. But it kept her from licking the
sore between her toes so she had to wear it.
Six months later, Lucy started having loose stools that turned into severe diarrhea.
She was treated with metronidazole for two weeks and she seemed to get better.
Unfortunately, as soon as she finished the medicine, the diarrhea came back. Poor
Lucy was constantly shaking, hiding under blankets or furniture, and she lost
control of her bowels frequently.
|(On a side note, most dry cat foods contain one or more of these ingredients, sometimes all of them). In addition
to her food allergies, I was shocked to find out that her environmental allergies are even more severe. She is
allergic to trees, grasses, weeds, fungi, cigarette smoke, and even some scented candles. I immediately
eliminated everything in our home environment that was scented from dryer sheets to kitty litter to perfume to
candles. I also went to a local pet food store and purchased cans of food from the list that Lucy isn’t allergic to.
There are 3 flavors of Natural Balance that she can eat, a couple of flavors of Merrick’s and Evanger’s, and a
couple of other flavors from other companies. I also bought ZiwiPeak Daily Cat Venison (it looks like beef jerky). I
took her off the prescription food and put her on an all wet diet as well as the ZiwiPeak. Within 24 hours she had
her first solid bowel movement in two months. Within 3 days, many of the lesions on her head began healing.
That was two years ago. I am delighted to report that Lucy hasn’t had any problems with diarrhea in two years.
She didn’t need the biopsy because she doesn’t have IBD; she has severe food and environmental allergies. I
don't think I could have ever figured out all of her allergens through an elimination diet. Even many of the
premium grain-free foods contain one or more of Lucy’s allergens. I truly believe the allergy blood test saved her
Lucy’s severe environmental allergies have been harder to manage. Her skin improved with the diet change but
she continued to break out in lesions. In January 2009, the vet prescribed Atopica (aka cyclosporine), an
immune-suppressant medication to stop Lucy’s body from attacking itself. This medication is currently only
approved for dogs so my vet prescribed it off-label. It has fewer side effects than steroids and Lucy has done
very well on it. Her lesions have cleared up by about 85%. When she develops a lesion, she doesn’t scratch it
and they heal with a few days. Atopica has been another lifesaver for Lucy! It’s been a long road for Lucy (and
for me!). The entire ordeal took about 6 years from the onset of symptoms to stabilization. I don’t know if our
battle to manage Lucy’s allergies is over; after years and years of illness, it’s almost impossible not to worry
about her and be a bit of a hyper vigilant, “hovering” mom! I love her so much and it’s amazing to see her happy
and healthy, with a full coat of fur. After all that she’s been through, she’s still the cross-eyed, energetic little
chatterbox that I fell in love years ago.
|When I got home, I did some Internet research and found mostly negative
information about allergy blood tests. I was hopeful that the tests would give us
some answers but based on the information online, I wasn’t sure what to
expect. I spoke with my regular vet the following week and she didn’t seem too
hopeful about the blood test either. We planned to wait for the blood test
results and then schedule the biopsy.
The allergy blood test was called SPOT Testing and was done by The
http://www.vetallergy.com/pages/testing.html. Lucy's results were ready in 10
days and indicated that she had more than 30 severe food and environmental
allergies. The test results came in a booklet that listed her allergies and also
listed foods and treats that she was not allergic to. It turns out that Lucy is
allergic to corn, eggs, barley, alfalfa, flaxseed and flaxseed meal, tomato
pomace, and peanuts. Oh, and she is allergic to ALL dry foods!
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