A Guide to Pet Allergies: Environmental, Fleas, and Food

A dog scratching itself outdoors

When people start to sneeze, wipe their noses, and blink away tears, it’s usually a dead giveaway that they’re experiencing seasonal allergy symptoms. Whether it’s pollen, dust, mold, or grass many people become seasonal victims of allergies.  Aside from the irritation and discomfort, most people live through them without much hassle. 

Pet allergies, on the other hand, can create extremely bothersome symptoms, such as severe itching which can lead to skin infections. These symptoms can reduce your pet’s quality of life. Determining the allergic triggers isn’t always straightforward, but when allergies are diagnosed properly it can eliminate needless suffering.

Powerful Manifestations

Pet allergies are different from human allergies. Instead of only causing overt respiratory issues, like a runny nose or sneezing, pet allergies usually causes itchy skin. And while allergies might last a season or two for people, pet allergies can be a year-round ordeal. Your pet may be so itchy that they can’t sleep at night, and can disturb your rest also with all their scratching and licking.

Can’t Stand It!

When a pet has an allergic reaction, their immune system overreacts and produces extra antibodies to launch an attack against substances it might normally tolerate. 

Depending on the trigger and the immune system’s response, pet allergies may cause intense itching and scratching all over their body, wheezing, coughing, sneezing, runny eyes, and various symptoms related to the digestive system, such as vomiting or diarrhea.

Can You Prepare For This?

Pet allergies are not uncommon although certain breeds seem to be more susceptible than others. Often, symptoms are first revealed around 1 or 2 years of age, but can start at any any age. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it could be time to test for allergies:

  • Constant scratching, licking or chewing an affected area
  • Hair loss
  • Flaky, scaly or inflamed skin
  • Rubbing at the face and ears
  • Shaking head
  • Wheezing or coughing (more common in cats than dogs)

Breaking It Down

There are three main categories of pet allergies:

  • Environmental – Substances in your pet’s environment, such as grass, mold, pollen, dust, smoke, shampoo, perfume, cleaners, etc., can cause an allergic response. A close look at your pet’s skin may reveal a rash, other skin inflammation or possible secondary. Atopy is a type of environmental allergy characterized by severe and even chronic symptoms. Atopic dermatitis requires veterinary care, which may include medications to calm down the overactive immune response or to treat secondary infections. We may also need to do blood testing to determine what your pet is allergic to.
  • Food – You may notice changes in your pet’s stool, chronic inflammation of the anal glands, ear infections, vomiting, and itching if they have a reaction to a particular ingredient, such as beef or chicken.  Food allergies can suddenly occur after years of eating the food causing the present symptoms. A food trial lasting a couple of months can ultimately reveal which food ingredient your pet is allergic to. Medications can relieve problematic symptoms during this trial.
  • Flea – Fleas cause itching on their own, but when a dog or cat develops an allergy to the saliva of a flea, the itching becomes extreme and unbearable. Beyond the fact that year round parasite prevention significantly reduces the spread of disease, flea control is crucial in pets that are allergic to fleas. 

Treating Pet Allergies

Pet allergies can be treated, but not cured entirely. Managing symptoms is critical to providing a high quality of life. Once we know what kind of allergy a pet has we can direct a course of treatment that may include any of the following:

  • Anti-itch medication
  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications
  • Medicated shampoo, mousse or ointment
  • Limited ingredient or hydrolyzed diets
  • Desensitization therapy

Reducing your pet’s exposure to known allergic triggers is part of a proactive plan to combat their symptoms. We are here to make your allergic pet more comfortable.  If you have further questions about pet allergies, please contact us at Berkeley Veterinary Center

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