May is the time of year when buds start to bloom and pollen starts to fly. This makes May the perfect month for National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. At Acorn Animal Hospital, we thought this would be a good opportunity to explain the differences between asthma and allergies, and help you learn whether your pet is a victim of either.

Asthma in dogs and cats

Asthma in dogs is actually an allergic reaction that results in the narrowing and spasming of the tiny airways in the lungs. This response can be triggered by culprits that include mold spores, dust mites, household cleaners, perfumes, and more. Asthma signs in your dog may include coughing, panting, wheezing, and mucous membranes that have turned pale or a bluish color. 

Asthma is more prevalent in cats, and the narrowing of their airways can be spontaneous, as well as the result of an allergen. Cats exhibit similar signs as dogs, including open-mouth breathing and excessive abdominal movement while inhaling and exhaling.

In dogs and cats, their struggle to breathe will be obvious, and they need veterinary care immediately. After our Acorn Animal Hospital team has controlled the initial crisis, typically with the use of supplemental oxygen, bronchodilators, and steroids, we will likely X-ray your pet’s chest to evaluate the extent of disease in the lung’s airways. Ongoing treatment with a bronchodilator to open up the airways, an antihistamine to counteract the allergic response, and a steroid to decrease the inflammatory response may be required after the asthma attack. The best way to prevent further episodes is to keep your pet away from the allergen that triggered the asthma response. Cats who experience spontaneous episodes unrelated to an allergen can also be treated with airway dilators.

Allergies in dogs and cats

Small pets with allergies typically present with itchy or irritated skin, in contrast to humans, whose response is to sneeze and cough. Other possible signs include excessive licking or rubbing, swollen paws, and red, puffy eyes. Three main allergy types that affect dogs and cats have been identified.

  • Fleas — A flea allergy is the most common hypersensitive reaction that torments pets, who actually respond to the flea saliva. Only one flea can cause an allergic pet to react, making comprehensive year-round flea control and prevention critical.
  • Food  — Your pet may develop an allergy to particular foods and react with vomiting and diarrhea. Certain proteins, carbohydrates, preservatives, or dyes are the likely cause. The only way to effectively diagnose a food allergy is a food trial, where your pet is given only novel foods, and must not ingest anything, including treats, that contains non-approved ingredients for 10 to 12 weeks. The diet should be introduced over seven days, so your pet’s food intake is not drastically changed. Typical novel foods include kangaroo and oats, venison and green peas, or turkey and spinach. After the trial, the pet’s original foods are introduced one at a time to pinpoint the one causing the allergic reaction.
  • Environmental — Also known as atopic dermatitis, an environmental allergy in pets can be triggered by a number of offenders, including dust mites and plant pollen. Seasonal allergies fall into this category. Allergen-specific immunotherapy can be created, and subcutaneous injections containing gradually increasing doses of the relevant allergens can help minimize the allergic reaction.

Regardless of the cause of the allergic reaction, secondary bacterial and yeast infections of the skin and ears commonly occur in pets. Unfortunately, these infections can exacerbate the itching intensity and require long-term antibiotics or anti-yeast medications.

Allergies cannot be remedied, but the situation can be ameliorated. In addition to removing the causative agent and using allergen-specific immunotherapy, particularly for pets with atopic dermatitis, frequent bathing can help some affected pets. Steroids can also help quiet down the initial extreme inflammatory response, but these medications are not recommended long-term.  

Asthma and the different allergies can be extremely problematic and affect your pet’s quality of life. If your dog or cat shows any signs of being plagued by asthma, or one or more of the various allergy types, contact Acorn Animal Hospital to set up an appointment, and let us help your itchy pet.