Spring has sprung, and the blooming trees and plants can cause allergies in pets, as well as people. However, signs can be hard to spot in dogs and cats. Here are five signs your dog could have allergies, and how you can help if she does.
#1: Licking, chewing, and scratching
While such behaviors for allergies may seem odd, dogs and cats commonly express discomfort, even for a deep, chronic itch, by licking and chewing. Constant scratching can indicate an allergic skin reaction or a flea allergy. Consult your veterinarian if your pet is constantly licking, chewing, or scratching her feet, face, ears, legs, or belly, because it is important to determine the cause.
#2: Changes in hair coat
Allergies usually show themselves on your pet’s skin, but redness or a rash can be missed if an animal has a lot of hair. Check for skin scaling, or dandruff, and hair loss, although hair loss can be caused by excessive scratching or from skin changes. Also, look for skin redness inside the ears, on the skin between the toes, or on the belly.
#3: Ear infections
Ears typically react to allergies, so look for chronic ear infection, redness, swelling, or inflammation. You may first see your pet scratching and shaking her head, but although allergies can cause these signs, so can a grass seed in the ear canal. Making an appointment with your veterinarian promptly is wise, because ear infections can lead to many other worse issues.
#4: Feet problems
Always check the exposed skin on your pet’s feet for signs of allergic reactions and visit your veterinarian if you see redness or swelling, especially around the toes, or if your pet is constantly chewing or licking her feet.
#5: Gastrointestinal (GI) upsets
You may not see GI symptoms if your pet has environmental allergies, such as grasses and trees, but you will see them if she is developing a food allergy. Food allergies are less common than environmental allergies, affecting only about 10% of small animals, but if your pet has GI symptoms and itchy skin and swelling, you should talk to your veterinarian.
What to do if your pet has allergies
You must learn what your pet is allergic to before starting any treatment. Dogs and cats can be sensitive to many environmental substances, including dust, mites, pollens, trees, grasses, weeds, molds, fabric, or rubber, or household products, such as cleaners, oils, or shampoo. Reactions can range from mild to severe, and can be seasonal. A simple skin test can help to determine exactly what is bothering your pet and help inform treatment.
Once you have pinpointed the cause of your pet’s allergy, the first step is avoiding the allergen, if possible. If not, your veterinarian can formulate an allergy vaccine that will help desensitize your pet’s immune system to the irritant. Most pets improve significantly within six months with these injections. Your veterinarian can also prescribe oral and topical medications, if needed.
For food allergies, an elimination diet is the only way to determine the food component that is bothering your pet. Proteins, such as chicken, beef, eggs, dairy, or fish (for cats) most commonly cause food allergies. An allergy or sensitivity to grains is unlikely. Food allergies can develop suddenly and do not abate without treatment. Your veterinarian will prescribe a special diet that will eliminate certain food products to determine the ingredient causing the allergic reaction. The diet must be fed alone—meaning no treats or table scraps—for a specific period. Once the culprit is identified, you should discuss with your veterinarian whether your pet should stay on a novel protein diet, a modified protein diet, or if ingredients can be reintroduced to see if reactions return. Never change your pet’s diet without first consulting your veterinarian.
Flea allergies are another consideration. Fleas and allergies may seem a strange relationship, but animals are often allergic to the saliva from flea bites and can react to a single bite. Some pets suffer a severe reaction, called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Ask your veterinarian to help you choose the best flea and tick preventives for your pet, and be sure to use it year-round to fully protect your pet.
Have a happy, healthy, itch-free spring with your pet. If you suspect your pet is suffering from environmental, food, or flea allergies, call us and set up an appointment.