The family wants to be outdoors during spring and summer, enjoying the sunshine and warm weather. But, unfortunately, allergens also abound in this ideal environment. Trees, grasses, weeds, and insects can all trigger allergic responses in both you and your pet, limiting your outdoor fun. How can your pet enjoy the spring season without needing to live in a bubble? First, we need to determine the cause of her allergies.
Causes of allergies in pets
Allergies in pets are one of the most frustrating conditions to diagnose and manage in the veterinary field. An allergy is essentially an overreaction by the immune system to an environmental element, such as pollen, fleas, or food. Identifying a potential allergen is always a challenge, compounded by the fact that pets are often hypersensitive to more than one item. For example, a pet may be allergic to pollen in the spring, and also to dust mites. Since dust mites are found in bedding, carpeting, and furniture, your pet continuously reacts to this allergen. This constant reaction may lead to the misconception that your pet has a food allergy, which is actually rare. Only 0.2% of dogs and 0.1% of cats have real food allergies.
Allergens are divided into three main categories:
- Environmental — Pollen, mold, dander, dust mites, fabrics, cleaning solutions, and medications comprise inhalant allergies, called atopy, and contact allergies.
- Food — Pets usually show signs of protein-source allergies rather than grain allergies. A food allergy develops over time, so your pet may start showing signs after years of eating the same food. Chicken, beef, lamb, fish, eggs, or dairy products can trigger allergies.
- Flea — Although fleas are considered an environmental contact allergen, this common allergy warrants its own category. Flea allergies are diagnosed by the classic sign of hair loss around the hind end and hind legs, and evidence of live fleas or flea dirt on your pet.
Signs of allergies in pets
Pets don’t display their allergies like people, with sneezing, watery eyes, and a runny nose. Their allergic reactions manifest in their skin, with the following signs:
- Itching and scratching
- Hair loss
- Red, inflamed skin
- Chronic ear infections
- Licking or chewing at the paws
- Secondary skin infections
- Anal gland issues
A pet may occasionally sneeze or have watery eyes with an allergy flare, but skin issues are more common. Signs of allergies are vague and don’t always correspond with an allergen category, making an accurate diagnosis challenging.
Diagnosing allergies in pets
Since pets commonly have allergies to more than one item, diagnosing all the potential allergens can be a lengthy process. Pets often grow into their allergies, with signs becoming more severe with age. A young dog displaying hair loss and scratching during late spring and early summer one year may itch three out of four seasons another year. Keep a record of your pet’s signs, their severity, and the time of year to help determine the allergenic cause. In addition to record keeping, we may recommend allergy testing.
Managing allergies in pets
While allergies in pets cannot be cured, we can manage them and keep your pet comfortable. Pets’ allergies change as they age, so close observation of your pet’s allergy flares is always necessary to modify treatment plans. Many pets require multiple treatment methods to successfully manage their allergies. When we form a treatment plan, we may include the following options for your pet:
- Skin or allergy diets
- Shampoos and other topical treatments
- Flea prevention
- Targeted medications
Each pet responds differently to treatment, so trial and error is necessary to find what works best. For example, a pet with chicken and dust mite allergies may need a prescription hypoallergenic diet and year-round allergy medication. As veterinary technology advances, safer products that battle allergies more effectively become available. Instead of suppressing the entire immune system with steroids, we can now target the itch response with steroid-free products, such as Apoquel or Cytopoint. We are excited to offer these innovative allergy treatments that allow us to provide much-needed relief for pets suffering from allergies.
Itchy pet? Stinky ears? Hair loss? If you notice any of these signs in your furry friend, schedule an appointment to get your pet allergy relief.