Pet Consider

Can I Give My Cat Zyrtec?

Can I Give My Cat Zyrtec?

Springtime often conjures up images of running through fields of flowers, setting up elaborate picnics near blooming orchards, and casting off our heavy winter coats in favor of light long-sleeved shirts. We look forward to sitting outside reading a book with our cats in our laps. We enjoy the warmer weather and the abundance of life associated with springtime.

We do not, however, enjoy the allergies that come with all of that blooming plant life. When the seasons begin to change, those idyllic images are tarnished by our own runny noses and our cat’s incessant scratching. It’s difficult if not impossible to enjoy your book when your itchy Maine Coon keeps trying rubbing his head against the spine. So, what can I, a responsible pet owner, rely on to fix my and my cat’s allergy symptoms? Can my cat have Zyrtec?

The answer: technically, yes, you can give your cat Zyrtec, but we do not recommend doing so without consulting a veterinarian. Most over-the-counter medications that have been approved for human use have not been properly studied in felines, which adds a degree of uncertainty to any existing guidelines. That said, there are many pet owners (and some veterinarians) who swear by Zyrtec.

Health Benefits?

ZyrtecZyrtec’s active ingredient is cetirizine, which is an antihistamine similar to Benadryl. Like most antihistamines, it is relatively safe for healthy pets—the risk of toxicity is low compared to other common over-the-counter medications. You definitely should not give this drug to your pet for extended periods of time, but short-term use is not likely to result in any serious side effects.

Like us, cats can suffer from a wide range of allergy symptoms. Some of the most common feline allergy symptoms are skin-related—insatiable itchiness is a hallmark of allergies in cats, which often shows up as excessive scratching, rubbing their bodies or heads against furniture, trees, and other objects, chewing on their limbs, or dragging their rear ends across the floor. Too much scratching can cause hair loss, red and inflamed skin, scabs, and an increased risk of infection. Some cats may experience sneezing, coughing, or itchy eyes. Zyrtec can alleviate many of these symptoms.

If your cat’s allergies are triggered by something in their environment (like pollen), cetirizine and other antihistamines may help alleviate their symptoms in the short term. When your cat is exposed to environmental allergens, their body begins to produce histamines, which are chemicals that bind to body cells. When histamines bind to the special receptors in a cat’s body cells, it results in the symptoms we associate with allergies.

Antihistamines don’t prevent your feline friend’s body from producing histamines—instead, they prevent histamines from attaching to body cells, which heads off allergy symptoms. In sum, Zyrtec can’t prevent your cat from making histamines, but it can ‘disarm’ them and alleviate the unpleasantness that they cause.

Zyrtec cannot, however, treat symptoms associated with food allergies. If your cat is suffering from allergy symptoms that seem unrelated to a change of seasons, you should examine their diet before administering over-the-counter medications. Food allergies can only be effectively treated by eliminating the allergen from their diet, whether it is seafood, dairy, or gluten.

Consider your cat’s diet and whether there have been any recent changes in their eating habits. If their symptoms showed up after introducing a new food, medication, or supplement, that is likely to be the culprit. Become aware of the most common food allergens and pay attention to how your cat responds to their food. If you think that your cat may have a food allergy, you may have to put them on an elimination diet.

Things to Consider

While it is true that Zyrtec might be able to relieve some of your cat’s mild to moderate allergy symptoms, there are many situations that might make this drug unsafe. If your cat is struggling with liver or kidney damage, you should not administer any over-the-counter medications without your vet’s say-so. Cats who are pregnant, nursing, suffering from other medical conditions, or currently taking other prescription or over-the-counter drugs should not begin any new medication without consulting a veterinarian.

When it comes to over-the-counter drugs, it is important to practice extreme caution. Antihistamines like Zyrtec may not cause any immediate side effects, but if you administer them incorrectly for a long period of time, you are likely to damage your cat’s kidneys, liver, and other vital organs. Once your cat has suffered from this kind of organ damage, there is no going back—liver and kidney damage is irreversible and sometimes fatal.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the occasional dose of Zyrtec most likely will not hurt an otherwise healthy cat who suffers from seasonal allergies. However, it is not recommended to give your cat any type of medication without the guidance of a veterinarian. To be on the safe side, take your cat to the vet—they will be able to recommend a feline-friendly drug and provide dosing instructions.

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