The rising temperatures bring blooming flowers, and for many, allergy season. Pets, like people, are prone to seasonal, environmental allergies, which may lead to many sleepless nights for pet owners and pets, because of uncontrolled scratching and discomfort. Pets are also at risk for year-round allergies. Pet owners whose pets have allergies know the frustration and challenges associated with an itchy pet thumping their leg into overdrive. Understanding and determining the underlying cause of your pet’s itching can be challenging, so our Dr. K’s Pet Clinic team describes common pet allergies, signs, and treatment options for your pet.
Common pet allergies
Pet allergies occur when an animal’s immune system mistakes a substance, or protein, as an invader, and forms antibodies against them. Allergens can enter your pet’s body through ingestion, such as a food protein, or through a defective skin barrier. Common pet allergens include:
- Fleas — Many pets are sensitive to a protein present in flea saliva, and are at risk of developing a skin inflammation called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). As few as one or two flea bites can cause severe itching and discomfort in these pets. Fleas thrive in warmer environments, but can be a year-round problem.
- Food — Some pets can develop an intolerance or allergy to certain foods, with chicken, beef, dairy, egg, and pork the most common food allergy culprits. Cats are most susceptible to fish allergies. Unlike people, grains and gluten are rarely an allergen source in pets.
- Environmental allergens — Pets who have environmental allergies, or atopy, may be sensitive to pollen, dust, mold, weeds, trees, or grasses, which grow and bloom in the spring and summer months. However, many pets have year-round allergies to dust and storage mites, which may worsen during the winter, when they spend more time indoors.
Pet allergy signs
Pet allergy signs are similar for all allergens, and often pets are allergic or sensitive to more than one type. Common allergy signs include:
- Red, inflamed, irritated skin
- Watery eyes
- Licking, chewing, or scratching
- Digging at the skin, face, ears, or paws
- Brown-stained fur from excessive licking
- Patchy areas of hair loss
- Red hives or wheals on the skin
- Chronic ear infections
- Skin infections
- Hot spots
- Skin with a yeasty odor
- Scabbing or flaky skin
- Anal gland issues
- Vomiting and diarrhea—common in food allergies
Pet allergy diagnosis
Bring your pet to Dr. K’s Pet Clinic for a veterinary examination if they are experiencing allergy signs. Diagnosing allergies can be challenging, since all allergy signs are similar. If our veterinarian suspects your pet has a food allergy, they will likely recommend a food trial, or elimination diet, which is the most effective way to make a diagnosis. This involves feeding a veterinary prescribed diet containing two to three ingredients plus essential vitamins and minerals, or a hydrolyzed protein diet, for a minimum of eight weeks. Your pet should then return to eating their previous diet, and if signs recur, an ingredient in the old diet is likely an allergen source. Ideally, your pet should return to the specialized diet until clinical signs improve, and then be challenged with individual ingredients until the allergen is identified.
Food trials require time and patience, but they are considered the gold standard for food allergy diagnosis, since no reliable blood tests are currently available to test for pets’ food allergies. If our veterinarian suspects your pet is suffering from environmental or seasonal allergies, they may recommend the following diagnostic tests:
- Serum allergy testing —Your pet’s blood is drawn, and the serum is sent to a laboratory to measure allergen-specific IgE levels for common pet allergens. These tests are then used to make allergy shots specific to your pet’s allergens.
- Intradermal allergy testing — Similar to human skin allergy tests, your pet’s side is shaved and a grid of dots is drawn onto the skin. A small volume of various allergens are injected intradermally at each spot, and the site observed for a reaction, typically a wheal or a hive.
Pet allergy treatments
Regular flea prevention is the most effective way to ensure your pet does not experience FAD. Pets with allergies are at risk for secondary infections from excessive scratching and skin damage, so antibiotics or antifungal treatments may be needed. Other allergy treatments may include:
- Antihistamine medications
- Immunotherapy injections (i.e., allergy shots)
- Anti-itching oral medications or injections
- Corticosteroid therapy
- Medicated baths
- Medicated wipes
- Topical antifungal, or antibacterial, medications
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplements
- Prescription diets
Call our Dr. K’s Pet Clinic office if your pet is itching, scratching, chewing, or showing any other allergy signs, and schedule them for an appointment. We are here to help alleviate your pet’s suffering from allergies, and to help ensure they are comfortable.