Itchy skin, watery eyes, excessive sneezing… No, we aren’t talking about your allergy symptoms. We’re talking about your pet’s allergy symptoms. Yes, our pets can suffer the unpleasant effects of allergies, just like we do. But, unfortunately, they can’t tell us when they’re having an allergic reaction. The key to keeping your pet comfortable is understanding how allergies affect pets and paying close attention to the signs your pet might be exhibiting.
How does an allergic reaction occur in my pet?
Similar to humans, pets can be sensitive to various substances. When a pet is exposed to a substance she is sensitive to, her immune system will attempt to protect her body by producing antibodies that release chemicals, like histamine, into the bloodstream. The chemicals act on the skin, eyes, nose, ears, throat, and gastrointestinal tract, causing various symptoms of an allergic reaction.
What could my pet be allergic to?
Pet allergens fall into two categories: environmental and food. Some pets are born with sensitivities to various allergens while other pets develop allergies as they age.
Some environmental allergens include:
- Pollens, grasses, trees, ragweed, mold, and mildew
- Cigarette smoke
- Cleaning products
- Cat litters
- Fabrics, rubber, and plastics
Some food allergens include:
- Meat products
- Prescription medications
How will I know if my pet is suffering from allergies?
A pet’s allergy symptoms will typically fall into one (or more) of the following categories:
- Skin — Called allergic dermatitis, allergy-related skin irritation and inflammation is the most common response dogs and cats have when exposed to an allergen. In an effort to relieve extremely itchy and inflamed skin, pets with allergic dermatitis might:
- Excessively scratch and/or chew at certain areas of the body
- Rub against furniture, carpet, or other objects
Because their scratching can become so excessive, pets with allergic dermatitis sometimes develop open sores, scabbing, and hair loss around the affected areas.
Allergic dermatitis caused by an allergy to flea bites is known as flea allergy dermatitis. While any animal will become itchy as a result of flea bites, some are more sensitive to the flea saliva, which is injected under the animal’s skin when the flea bites. Animals with flea allergy dermatitis will experience a longer-lasting and more intense reaction (up to 2 weeks after being bitten) than their counterparts who aren’t allergic to flea bites.
If your pet has flea allergy dermatitis, you might notice:
- Hair loss
- A rash
- Raised bumps that could look like pimples
- Raw or bleeding areas where the pet has excessively scratched, bitten, or groomed
- For dogs, this most often occurs near the back legs, stomach, or tail
- For cats, this more commonly occurs near the face and neck
- Ears — For some pets, especially dogs, allergy symptoms will be focused primarily on the ears. Some signs that your pet might be experiencing allergy-related ear troubles include:
- Frequent head shaking
- Scratching and/or hair loss around the ears
- An unpleasant-smelling discharge coming from the ears (probably due to an ear infection)
- Gastrointestinal — Less common than allergy dermatitis and ear problems, gastrointestinal allergic reactions can often be blamed on food allergies. Pets with gastrointestinal allergies might:
- Have diarrhea
- Have increased flatulence
- Scoot or have redness around the anus
- Respiratory — While respiratory symptoms might be common in humans who suffer from allergies, they are less common in our furry friends, although they do occur. Some pets could experience:
- Sneezing and/or coughing
- Snoring and an inflamed throat
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
How will my pet’s allergies be diagnosed?
If your pet seems to be struggling with allergies, call our office and schedule an appointment. Our team will conduct a complete physical exam and any appropriate blood and/or skin tests. If we determine your pet’s condition is due to a food allergy, we may recommend an elimination diet to pinpoint the specific ingredient.
If your pet’s allergy symptoms are severe or unresponsive to treatment, we may recommend making an appointment with a veterinary dermatologist for further allergy skin tests.
How can my pet’s allergies be prevented and treated?
- Food allergies — Pets with food allergies should not be given any food, treats, or medications containing the allergen.
- Flea allergy dermatitis — All pets, especially those allergic to fleas, should be given a flea preventive medication for year-round protection.
- Seasonal/environmental allergies — Clean your pet’s environment, including bedding, flooring, and window treatments, frequently. Some pets benefit from bathing more often (once per week), but be aware that frequent bathing can dry out your pet’s skin, so ask us about an appropriate moisturizing shampoo.
Some pets might also benefit from antihistamines, allergy injections, short-term steroids, fatty acid supplements, immune-modulating medications, and special shampoos or sprays (to help relieve irritated skin).
There are treatments available for pets with allergies. Call our office at 512-696-3980 to get help.