Did you know that our pets get allergies just like we do? They can have itchy eyes, runny noses, and skin rashes. Their allergies share many of the same root causes, such as foods and seasonal pollens. Even the treatments are similar! Allergies, also called hypersensitivities, occur when our body’s immune system overreacts to stimuli. Allergies can ruin your day and your pet’s!
Different allergies have slightly different signs that can help you determine what your pet is allergic to. Keep in mind that allergic animals are often sensitive to multiple things. Below, we will look at some of the most common sources of allergies in pets, their symptoms, and some options for treatment. Please know that we are behind you every step of the way, and are only ever a phone call away if you notice any of these symptoms or conditions.
Atopy is the genetic tendency of an animal to have allergies or hypersensitivities to common allergens. This often refers to inhaled and environmental allergens such as animal dander, pollen, mold, and dust mites. It can also refer to allergies to plants, insects, foods, and medications. This type of allergy can cause symptoms of asthma, hay fever, and eczema.
Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, includes what we typically associate with seasonal allergies, such as itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and congestion.
Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a chronic inflammatory skin reaction that is very common in dogs, and also occurs in cats. Signs include excessive scratching, chewing, and licking of the paws, armpits, groin, ears, and other areas. The skin can become irritated and raw, even infected. These skin reactions may require medications like steroids, antibiotics, or antifungals.
Seasonal allergies can be helped by frequent baths, wiping paws after walks, and extra cleaning around the house, to reduce allergens. Topical anti-itch sprays and therapeutic shampoos are available as well.
Other medications can include antihistamines, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants. While some of the same medications are used for both animals and people, others can be very dangerous for dogs and cats, so be sure to give medications to your pets only as directed by a veterinarian.
Hyposensitization or desensitization is another form of treatment for allergies that involves a series of injections or small oral doses of an allergen to reduce the reaction over time.
Food allergies and intolerances may cause diarrhea and vomiting, but the most common sign is itching, often around the face, ears, paws, forelegs, and armpits, that can lead to hair loss and skin lesions. They can cause persistent and recurring ear infections, both yeast and bacterial. Food allergies can be differentiated from seasonal allergies, because they tend to continue year-round, and respond a little differently to medications.
Cats and dogs are usually allergic to protein sources that are most frequently found in their foods, such as chicken, beef, pork, lamb, turkey, eggs, dairy, and fish. Food allergies can be identified through a food trial or elimination diet. Hydrolyzed protein diets, specific protein diets, or limited ingredient diets can be used to eliminate the allergen(s) for long enough that the symptoms subside, at which point you and your vet can determine what foods your pet will tolerate. These diets not only exclude the most commonly used forms of proteins, but the common carbohydrates as well, such as wheat, corn, and soy. During an elimination diet, it is important that your pet not have any other foods – that means no treats, table scraps, or picking up crumbs on walks!
If you would like to try a different type of hypoallergenic food or a homemade diet, make sure that it meets your pet’s nutritional requirements. Most commercial pet foods will include an AAFCO statement that says it provides “complete and balanced” nutrition or that it meets the nutritional requirements for your pet’s species and life stage. Your veterinarian will also be able to give you guidance about the best food for your pet.
Flea allergy and Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)
All animals will feel itchy when infested with fleas, but it can be much more severe when an animal has an allergy to the fleas. Flea Allergy Dermatitis, or flea allergies, may cause symptoms of patchy hair loss, rashes, or scaly skin. This classically concentrates at the lower back, base of the tail, groin, and inside and back of thighs. Cats can get small crusty bumps all over. Unlike with food allergies, fleas don’t tend to irritate the feet or head, so that is one way to distinguish them.
In the case of fleas, prevention is the best medicine! Consistent use of flea preventatives is an important first step. If your current method of flea control doesn’t seem to be working, it might be time to try a new medication. It does not take many fleas to cause a severe reaction in a very flea-allergic animal, so these animals might require more aggressive prevention. Some flea medications can kill fleas right away, while others take some time to take effect. Topical treatments, pills, and sprays all have their own pros and cons, and your veterinarian can help you find the right product for your pet. It will also be important to control fleas in your pet’s environment as well, both inside and outside your home.
It’s important to figure out the source of your pet’s discomfort. If you notice any of these symptoms, please give us a call so we can help.