Dealing With Pet Allergies
Just like us, pets can suffer from allergies. Also like us, a variety of irritants can bring on an allergic reaction in a cat or dog.
The three most common triggers of pet allergies are fleas, airborne environmental irritants and certain foods. Just a few fleabites can trigger intense scratching. Environmental irritants run the gamut and include:
If your pet only shows symptoms in spring, summer or fall, it's most likely he's allergic to something he encounters outdoors, such as:
- Pollen from trees, grass, flowers and weeds
When symptoms continue year-round, it's probable that the sensitivity is to a constant in the environment or something he is fed. Although most animals find these common substances harmless, they can trigger an allergic reaction in others:
- Dust and dust mites
- Mold spores
- Household cleaning products
- Cigarette smoke
- Some prescription drugs
- Some flea-control products
Potential Food Allergens
Food allergies can show up at any age. When supervised by a veterinarian, an elimination diet can identify what a cat or dog is allergic to as long as treats and table scraps are withheld. Once the symptoms cease, the veterinarian will advise you how to reintroduce former foods to see which may have caused the allergic reaction.
Symptoms of Pet Allergies
It's no fun for dogs and cats with allergies, since they can't even reach for a tissue to stifle a sneeze or wipe a runny eye or nose. Although respiratory and digestive symptoms can arise as the body tries to rid itself of allergens, most pet allergies manifest as a skin irritation.
- Itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin
- Constant licking
- Itchy ears and ear infections
- Paw chewing/swollen paws
- Runny eyes
- Itchy back or base of tail (most commonly from a flea allergy)
Dogs with allergies will often lick and scratch a part of their body until they develop a "hot spot." Without treatment, skin infections can develop and may cause hair loss.
Cats suffer most of the same symptoms. Additionally, some may be allergic to their litter (switching to a dust-free alternative may solve that issue). Asthmatic cats may cough and wheeze in response to irritants.
How Pet Allergies Are Diagnosed
Allergies occur in all breeds and the symptoms typically appear after a cat or dog reaches six months of age.
A veterinarian may be able to determine the source of your pet's allergic reaction from a physical examination. Otherwise, she is likely to recommend a skin or blood test or a specific elimination diet to find out what's causing the reaction.
If initial treatment doesn't clear up irritated skin, a visit to a veterinary dermatologist may help. As with humans, a patch test would be used to determine what's causing the reaction.
Treating a Pet Allergy
Since many irritating substances cannot be eliminated from the environment, a veterinarian can recommend ways to control an allergic reaction. These are the most common treatment options:
- Cortisone or steroids
- Flea treatment products such as Bravecto®
- Allergy shots
- Hypoallergenic or medicated shampoos and conditioners (bathing may help relieve itching and remove environmental irritants from your dog's skin)
- Omega-3 supplements to help suppress itching
- Veterinarian-supplied medicated spray
- Pet allergen-blocker wipes to use on paws when outdoor dogs and cats come indoors
Environmental allergies can be managed but not cured, so it's essential to bring your pet in for check-ups to assess how he responds to treatment and adjust it as needed so that he can stay as comfortable as possible.