Allergy season is in full swing, causing sneezing, sinus congestion, and itchy, watery eyes in those poor souls who suffer with seasonal allergies. While your pet’s signs are not the same, they can suffer from similar hypersensitivities. Our team at Little Animal Hospital answers some common questions we receive about pet allergies.

#1: What signs do allergic pets exhibit?

Dogs and cats become excessively itchy, and exhibit signs including, scratching, chewing, licking, and rubbing. The most problematic areas tend to be their face, ears, feet, and tail base, but many pets are affected over their entire body. Hair loss and crusty skin lesions may also be seen as the allergy progresses. Skin and ear infections caused by bacteria and yeast are commonly seen as secondary problems when your pet is affected by allergies.

#2: What causes my pet to be allergic?

Allergies are an inherited condition in pets, and certain breeds, such as Shar-peis, are predisposed to hypersensitivities because of their excessive skin folds. Allergens affecting pets fall into three categories—fleas, environmental, and food.

  • Flea allergies — Flea allergies are the most common hypersensitivities seen in pets, who react to a protein in the flea’s saliva. One flea can cause a significant allergic response. 
  • Environmental allergies — Atopic dermatitis is the official name for environmental allergies in pets. Pets can react to anything in their environment, with pollen, molds, dust mites, cleaning products, and fabrics the most common culprits. 
  • Food allergies — When a pet has a food allergy, they are typically reacting to a protein source in their food, but carbohydrates and preservatives can also cause issues. The most common offenders include chicken, egg, beef, and dairy products.

#3: How is my pet diagnosed with allergies?

Diagnosing allergies in dogs and cats can be difficult, since no test can definitively identify the problem. Flea allergies are the easiest form to diagnose. If your pet is exhibiting excessive itchiness, and you find evidence of fleas on your pet or in their environment, they are likely dealing with a flea allergy. Their bedding should also be examined for fleas, flea droppings, and flea eggs, because your pet can obsessively groom the parasites out of their coat. 

If you find no evidence of fleas, your pet may be suffering from atopic dermatitis. Allergy testing can be performed to help determine the environmental substance causing your pet’s reaction. Intradermal testing, which involves injecting a small amount of the suspected allergen under your pet’s skin, is the most reliable testing method. If the area becomes red and swollen, your pet is allergic to that element. Your pet may have differing reaction levels to more than one substance. 

To diagnose a food allergy, your pet will be placed on a food trial for at least 10 weeks. During this time, your pet will be fed a novel diet that does not contain any ingredients, including treats and flavored medications, in their current diet. Common proteins used for a novel diet include venison, buffalo, and kangaroo. Another option is a hydrolyzed diet, in which the protein is broken down to a size so small that the body does not recognize the element as a threat. If your pet’s signs resolve while on the food trial, the ingredients from their previous diet will be gradually reintroduced to pinpoint which substance was causing the reaction. This ingredient will then be eliminated from your pet’s diet.

#4: How is my allergic pet treated?

Allergies, regardless of the cause, are not curable, and need life-long management to keep your pet’s distress at a minimum. Pets often develop different allergies as they age, and hypersensitivities typically worsen as pets get older. While no drug will cure your pet’s allergy, several methods are available to help manage your pet’s skin issues. Bathing your pet frequently will remove allergens from their skin. Steroids can decrease the initial inflammatory process, but should not be used long term. Anti-itch medications are also available to decrease your pet’s distress. 

In the case of flea allergies, removing all fleas from your pet’s body and environment is key for their relief. Bathe your pet and use a flea comb to remove all fleas from their coat. You will also need to exterminate all fleas from your home. If your yard is infested, your lawn will need to be treated, as well.

Hyposensitization therapy can help your pet if they are diagnosed with atopic dermatitis. A gradually increasing allergen dose is administered to your pet by injection. This therapy desensitizes your pet to the problematic element, but may take six months to a year to be effective. Removing the problematic ingredient from your pet’s diet should alleviate their signs if they suffer from a food allergy, although they may develop a hypersensitivity to other ingredients. 

Pet allergies can be daunting. Our team at Little Animal Hospital is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, and we are well equipped to help you manage your pet’s problematic skin. If your pet is an allergy sufferer, contact us to set up an appointment, so we can start relieving their itchiness.