Does Your Pet Have Allergies?
If you have an itchy, scratching dog or cat and think your pet could have allergies, you might be right. Dogs and cats can suffer from allergies, just like we do, but their symptoms tend to be different.
So what are the signs of allergies in cats and dogs, and how can you help if you think your pet has allergies?
To start with, it helps to understand what an allergy is. An allergy results when the immune system overreacts or becomes hypersensitive to a harmless, often common, substance (called an allergen) that comes in contact with or enters the body. Essentially, the immune system thinks the substance is dangerous and tries to destroy it.
For a pet (or person) to become allergic, they generally need to have been exposed to the allergen more than once and typically multiple times over months or years. However, even young pets can get allergies.
Types of Pet Allergies
Seasonal allergies are a type of environmental allergy that often gets worse in the spring, summer, and fall. However, allergies in pets can last throughout the year, depending on the cause. That’s because pets can be allergic to more than one plant’s pollen or to other items in the environment that are around all year long, like dust mites or some moulds.
In the spring and summer, seasonal allergies are typically caused by trees, weeds, and other plants that pollinate during this time of year, as well as some moulds that tend to bloom inside or out. Around London, Riverbend, and surrounding areas in Ontario, our pets may encounter pollen from oak, elm, maple, and mulberry trees as well as grasses like Bermuda, orchard, Timothy, and sweet vernal, all of which can cause allergic reactions. Later in the summer (usually in August), ragweed may be responsible for allergy symptoms in pets.
Allergies to food are actually not that common in pets, but they can happen. A true food allergy causes an immune response and can even result in anaphylaxis (think of severe peanut allergies in people). These reactions worsen gradually over time and are related to a specific ingredient in a pet’s food, such as chicken, beef, eggs, fish, or dairy components.
Most pets who have issues with food actually have an intolerance, which happens when a certain ingredient or property of the food doesn’t agree with the pet (such as a food having too much fat) but doesn’t involve the immune system. A food intolerance usually happens the first time a pet is exposed to the food, unlike with an allergy, which tends to take multiple exposures over time. Regardless, the signs of pet allergies or an intolerance are generally the same.
Signs & Symptoms of Pet Allergies
Most pets with allergies have skin issues. Itching is often the main symptom, causing allergic pets to:
- Scratch obsessively
- Rub against furniture
- Shake their head
- Frequently lick, chew, bite, or groom themselves, sometimes to the point where they cause hair loss or hot spots (painful, raw, inflamed areas on the skin that may bleed)
In pets with seasonal allergies, chewing or licking the feet is a common sign, so affected pets tend to have red, swollen-looking paws. Their ears may also be inflamed or infected, and they may have anal gland issues. Seasonal allergies can cause nasal discharge and sneezing, although these are less common allergy symptoms in pets.
The ears and paws are often affected, but the groin, underarms, ankles, and areas around a pet’s eyes and muzzle may also show signs of allergies like irritation and hair loss.
Seasonal allergies may be to blame in a pet with a red, itchy belly who chews or licks the paws or nails excessively.
Pets with food allergies can have gastrointestinal symptoms, like vomiting and diarrhea, in addition to itchy skin.
Some pets with allergies may get bacterial or yeast infections from excessive scratching and overgrooming. These are referred to as “secondary infections.”
Getting Your Pet Relief From Allergies
We treat allergies in pets similarly to the way human doctors treat people with allergies. However, although some of the medications may be the same, pets process medications differently than people do, so it’s important to remember to NEVER give your pet human medication, unless your pet’s veterinarian has prescribed it. Only give your pet medications exactly as prescribed.
For seasonal and other environmental allergies:
- Bathing your pet with a pet shampoo after time spent outside can help remove pollen and other allergens. Ask us for recommendations!
- Washing your pet’s bedding frequently may also help minimize exposure to allergens.
- We can prescribe oral and/or topical medications to give your pet relief.
- Some pets might benefit from allergen-specific immunotherapy, which desensitizes pets to specific allergens over time.
- Any secondary yeast or bacterial infections need to be treated as well, so we may run lab tests to make sure we’re targeting the right culprit and giving your pet the most effective treatment.
- There are also some newer treatment options to help itchy pets. These can provide rapid and long-term relief.
For pets with food allergies, we have special diets and other options we can use.
If your pet is showing signs of allergies or you’re concerned about your itchy pet, give us a call or schedule an appointment today. One of our specialized veterinary technicians will help rule out any other potential causes of your pet’s symptoms and work with you to individually tailor therapy to your pet.
Let us help your allergic pet get relief!