If your dog or cat is constantly itchy, they just might have allergies. Dogs and cats suffer from allergies just like humans do, but their symptoms tend to be different. Once you know the “what” and the “why” of pet allergies, it’s easier to help your pet find relief.
An allergy results when the immune system overreacts or becomes hypersensitive to a harmless and often common substance (called an allergen) that enters or comes in contact with the body. Essentially, the immune system thinks the substance/allergen is dangerous and tries to destroy it. You can think of an allergy like an oversensitive car alarm that sounds at the slightest trigger.
Signs of pet allergies
Most pets with allergies have skin issues. Itching is often the most obvious sign, causing allergic pets to:
- Scratch obsessively
- Rub against furniture
- Shake their head
- Frequently lick, chew, bite, or groom themselves, sometimes to the point of hair loss or hot spots (painful, raw, inflamed areas on the skin that may bleed)
Some pets with allergies also get bacterial or yeast infections from excessive scratching and overgrooming. These are referred to as “secondary infections” and contribute to your pet’s itch and discomfort.
Types of pet allergies
Seasonal allergies and atopy
Seasonal allergy and atopy describe the same type of allergic skin disease. Most dogs with atopy experience itching during certain seasons. Other affected dogs will have problems year-round, which means that the allergen is constantly present or that the dog has developed multiple allergies.
- Seasonal allergies are typically caused by trees, weeds, and other plants that pollinate during a specific time of year, as well as some moulds that tend to bloom indoors and outdoors.
- In Quebec, pets may encounter pollen in the spring from trees including cedar, juniper, boxelder, and maple. Pets may also have allergies to grasses like bluegrass, hay and turf from May to October or even later in the year. Late in the summer and into the fall, ragweed may be responsible for allergy symptoms in pets.
- Common allergens that cause problems year-round include house dust mites, storage mites, and mould spores.
Signs of seasonal allergies or atopy include:
- Chewing or licking the feet, resulting in red, swollen paws or brown staining on the feet.
- Ear inflammation or infections.
- Anal gland issues.
- Irritation and itching (with or without hair loss) can also occur in the groin, underarms, ankles and around a pet’s eyes or muzzle.
- Although less common, seasonal allergies can cause nasal discharge and sneezing in pets, similar to human symptoms.
When fleas bite, pets can have an allergic reaction to certain proteins in the fleas’ saliva. This is sometimes called flea bite hypersensitivity and can lead to flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). FAD may be more common in warmer months, but can occur year-round because fleas can survive indoors throughout the year.
Pets with flea allergy dermatitis often have:
- An itchy rash or raw, irritated areas on their skin
- Hair loss in specific patterns
- Cats: around the head, neck, lower back, stomach, and thighs
- Dogs: around the tail, back legs, and stomach
Allergies to food are not that common in pets, but they can happen.
- Grains are a less common cause of allergies in pets, whereas animal proteins like chicken, beef, eggs, fish, or dairy are the cause of most pet food allergies.
- Pets with food allergies can have gastrointestinal symptoms, like vomiting and diarrhea, in addition to itchy skin.
Getting your pet relief from allergies
Allergies can be tricky to treat in pets. Some dogs and cats respond quickly to treatment, whereas others may need longer-term management.
For seasonal and other environmental allergies:
- Bathe your pet after they’ve been outside to remove pollen and other allergens. Ask your veterinarian for pet shampoo recommendations.
- Wash your pet’s bedding frequently to minimize their exposure to allergens.
- We can prescribe oral and/or topical medications to give your pet relief from itching.
- Some pets might benefit from allergen-specific immunotherapy (commonly known as allergy shots), which desensitizes pets to specific allergens over time.
- There are also some newer oral and injectable treatment options (also called immune modulators) to help itchy pets. These can provide rapid and long-term relief for pets with allergies.
- Any secondary yeast or bacterial infections need to be treated, so we may run tests to make sure we’re targeting the right culprit and giving your pet the most effective treatment.
For flea allergy:
- Flea allergy can be treated and prevented by keeping pets on flea control products. We may also prescribe other medications, depending on the individual pet.
For food allergy:
- The only reliable test for food allergies in pets is a two- to three-month hypoallergenic diet trial. This is a diagnostic test in which the only food the pet eats is the hypoallergenic food /ingredients prescribed by your veterinarian. Your pet cannot have any other food, treats or flavoured medications. By strictly controlling what your pet eats, the ingredient(s) that trigger an allergic reaction can be identified and/or ruled out.
- Your veterinarian will recommend the best diet for your pet for a diet trial and if needed, for long-term management of a food allergy.
If your pet is showing signs of allergies or you’re concerned about your itchy pet, give us a call, or schedule an appointment with a veterinarian at Vet Mobile Plus today. We’ll rule out other potential causes of your pet’s symptoms and work with you to tailor therapy to your pet.
The veterinary team at Vet Mobile Plus will help your allergic pets get the relief they deserve!