With spring in full bloom, your pet may be feeling downright miserable because of her allergies. Just like their owners, pets can be sensitive and react to environmental substances. Here’s how you can tell if your pet has allergies, and how you can help.
What are allergies?
Animals with allergies experience an exaggerated immune response to particular substances—called allergens—they would not normally react to. Most allergens are proteins in the environment from plants or insects, or food ingredients that are ingested.
What are pets allergic to?
Pets and people are allergic to many of the same things in the environment, including:
- Pollens from trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers
- Dust mites found in homes
- Food ingredients (commonly wheat, dairy, beef, fish, and eggs)
When your pet is exposed to an allergen she is sensitive to, her immune system overreacts and she releases histamine, which causes the clinical signs associated with allergies. Each animal is allergic to a unique combination of substances, and being allergic to one does not mean she will be allergic to others.
What are the signs of allergies in pets?
Humans with allergies tend to experience respiratory symptoms like itchy eyes and sneezing, while animals’ allergy symptoms are typically related to the skin and may include:
- Itchy skin, especially near the ears, feet, and rear
- Red bumps on the skin, often on the abdomen
- Hair loss
- Chronic ear infections
Your pet’s allergy symptoms may be seasonal. For example, if she is allergic to pollens that appear when trees and flowers bloom during the spring and summer, your pet will only experience allergy symptoms during those times of the year.
Some allergens, such as dust mites, are always present in your home, and your pet will exhibit allergy signs year-round. Likewise, if a food allergy is the problem, her clinical signs will be non-seasonal.
How are allergies diagnosed in pets?
If you think your pet may have allergies, start by scheduling an appointment with our veterinary team. If her symptoms are mild and seasonal, we can prescribe medications to decrease her inflammation and itching. If her symptoms are more severe, or they don’t respond to the medications, we can test her to determine if allergies are actually the problem. Allergy testing will also reveal which allergens your pet is sensitive to. Testing can be performed two ways:
- Intradermal allergy testing — A patch of fur on your pet’s side is shaved to expose the skin, and a grid of dots is made with a pen. A small amount of a different potential allergen is injected into the skin at each dot, and each injection site is observed for a reaction, such as swelling, redness, or itching, after a specific length of time. A reaction indicates sensitivity to the particular allergen injected into that site.
- Serum allergy testing — Blood is drawn, and the fluid portion is sent to an external laboratory to measure different immunoglobulins specific for a list of possible allergens.
How are allergies treated in pets?
Mild allergy symptoms are often treated with medications to decrease inflammation, redness, and itching. The allergens should be avoided as much as possible, with the understanding that some things are impossible to avoid completely. Some tips:
- Wipe your pet’s feet and fur with a damp cloth to remove pollen she may have picked up while outside.
- Purchase an air purifier to remove pollen and mold spores that may be circulating in your home.
- Wash all pet bedding and vacuum floors at least once weekly to minimize dust mite accumulation.
- Adhere strictly to a flea-control program, including flea-prevention products, if your pet is allergic to fleas. Even one flea bite can cause an intensely itchy rash.
- Ensure your pet’s diet does not include any food ingredients she is allergic to.
For pets with more severe allergy symptoms, immunotherapy can be helpful. After allergy testing determines which allergens your pet is sensitive to, a unique batch of medication containing these allergens is formulated. Your pet is given the medication, either by subcutaneous injection or by pumping a small amount under the tongue, on a regular schedule. The controlled introduction of allergens can slowly desensitize your pet’s immune system.
Do you think your pet may have allergies? Give us a call!