Allergies: They can ruin any lovely spring day and consume you with a miserable array of sneezing, watery eyes, irritated skin, and more. And, while you might be able to pop your favorite over-the-counter antihistamine to relieve your allergy symptoms, your pet’s allergy symptoms might not be so easily handled.
That’s right—just like us, our pets can suffer from allergies, but they can’t tell us when they aren’t feeling well. To keep your pet feeling her best, it’s important to pay attention to the signs of allergies and understand how they can affect your furry friend.
What is an allergic reaction?
An animal’s immune system function is dependent on her genetics and her environment. If a pet was born sensitive to something in her environment, her body will attempt to protect itself by producing antibodies to that particular allergen. Those antibodies will then release chemicals into the bloodstream, one of which is histamine.
The histamine acts on various parts of the body, including the eyes, ears, nose, throat, skin, and gastrointestinal tract, causing the unpleasant symptoms of an allergic reaction. When your pet is exposed to that particular allergen in the future, the allergic reaction will occur again, sometimes becoming more severe over time.
Types of allergies
Pets experience two main types of allergies: environmental and food. Environmental allergens can be seasonal (most common in the spring, summer, or fall) or year-round, and food allergies can occur at any time. Some allergies are present from birth or a very young age, while other allergies can appear at any age.
Some common pet allergens include:
- Ragweed, pollens, grasses, trees, and molds
- Dust and dander
- Food ingredients, including wheat, corn, soy, or meat products
- Cigarette smoke
- Cleaning products
Signs of allergies
Dogs and cats suffering from allergies will most often experience skin irritation or inflammation—this is called allergic dermatitis. Pets with allergic dermatitis will go to great lengths to relieve the extremely itchy skin and will commonly be seen scratching excessively, chewing at certain areas of the body, or rubbing against furniture or carpet. The excessive scratching can lead to inflamed and painful skin, open sores, scabbing, and hair loss.
Pets with allergies (especially dogs) will often experience problems with their ears. An animal’s ears can become itchy and irritated, causing her to scratch at them, lose hair around them, or shake her head frequently. The irritated ears can easily become infected, which might lead to a discharge coming from the ears and an accompanying odor.
Some other signs of allergies in pets include:
- Respiratory symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, runny nose, watery eyes, and an inflamed throat that can cause snoring
- General redness around the eyes, inside the mouth, and around the paws, anus, and chin
- Itchy back or base of tail (often a flea allergy)
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea (often a food allergy)
Diagnosing allergies in pets
If your pet is showing signs of an allergic response, call our office. We’ll conduct a physical exam and a blood test that measures antibodies for more than 100 allergens specific to the southeast.
If we believe that your pet is allergic to something in her food, we’ll likely want to put her on an elimination diet to find the specific culprit of her allergic response.
Treating and preventing allergy symptoms
The best treatment is always prevention, so avoid the allergen whenever possible. For flea allergies, administer a regular, year-round flea preventive medication. If your pet is allergic to dust, clean her environment regularly. Wash her bedding once per week and vacuum all flooring and curtains at least twice per week.
For pets who suffer from environmental allergies, it may be helpful to bathe them once per week. But, bathing that frequently can dry out an animal’s skin, so ask us for a shampoo recommendation.
If your pet is allergic to a particular food ingredient, we will recommend that you avoid any food products that contain that ingredient or a derivative of that ingredient. For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken, you should avoid any foods or treats that contain chicken protein, chicken fat, chicken meal, etc.
Sometimes, it’s impossible to completely avoid a particular allergen, especially those that are airborne. In these instances, allergy injections may be appropriate and can help some pets develop resistance to the allergen.
Some other treatments we may recommend:
- Antihistamines (never give your pet a medication without first consulting us)
- Fatty acid supplements, shampoos, and sprays (can help to relieve a pet’s irritated skin)
- Immune-modulating medications, like Apoquel and Atopica
- Steroids (only in severe cases and typically for short-term use)
Think your pet might be suffering from allergies? Call us at 615-444-4422.