Did you know that, like you, your pet can suffer from seasonal allergies? They can also develop year-round allergies that are triggered by daily exposure to something in their environment. However, pets may develop allergies like people, but most of the similarities stop there. Rather than sneezing and having itchy, watery eyes, your pet is much more likely to have irritated, inflamed skin. If you suspect your pet has allergies, read through our Mill Creek Animal Hospital guide to allergies in cats and dogs.
What is an allergy in pets?
An allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts to a substance known as an allergen. In pets, allergies generally occur over time as the immune system is repeatedly exposed to an allergen. However, some pets can also experience allergies when first exposed to a trigger. Normally, the immune system would safely protect your pet against foreign invaders, but in the case of allergies, the system becomes hypersensitized and creates an unnecessary response.
What triggers allergies in pets?
Allergies are typically caused by proteins in substances like plants, animals, insects, and foods, so your pet can develop an allergy to as many substances as you can. Some more common allergens in pets include:
- Pollen from grass, weeds, trees, and flowers
- Mold spores
- Dust mites
- Cleaning chemicals
- Aerosol sprays
- Flea saliva
- Foods (e.g., chicken, lamb, beef, eggs, dairy products)
Seasonal allergies, environmental allergies, and contact allergies are more common in pets than food allergies. In fact, true food allergies are rare, and corn and grain allergies are much less likely to be diagnosed.
Are some pets more likely than others to develop allergies?
Any pet can develop allergies at any age, but most allergies appear after the pet is 6 months of age, and typically after they are 1 or 2 years old. And, while any breed can develop allergies, some breeds appear more predisposed, including:
- English bulldogs
- Cocker spaniels
- Labrador retrievers
- Golden retrievers
- American pit bull terriers
- German shepherds
What signs will my pet show if they have allergies?
Unlike people, who show allergies by sneezing, congestion, and watery eyes, pets typically show skin reactions. Itchy skin is the predominant sign in pets with allergies, and other associated signs can include:
- Excessive licking and chewing, especially of the paws
- Red, moist skin
- Skin infections
- Scratching or rubbing the face
- Itchy tail base
- Hair loss
- Hot spots
- Chronic ear infections
- Anal gland issues
Pets may also develop vomiting and diarrhea if they have food sensitivities. In some cases, your pet may sneeze or have watery eyes, like you do when the spring growing starts, but these upper respiratory signs are less common than skin issues.
How will my pet’s allergies be diagnosed?
Diagnosing a pet with allergies—and the allergens that trigger the reaction—can be a lengthy process. Multiple testing options are available, but an intradermal allergy test is considered the gold standard. For this test, the pet is sedated or placed under general anesthesia, their side is shaved, and small amounts of common allergens are injected close under the skin. The reaction to each substance is noted to determine if the pet has an allergy. Blood testing is also available to help diagnose your pet’s environmental allergies.
Food allergy testing cannot be accomplished through intradermal or blood testing. Instead, a strict dietary trial lasting 8 to 12 weeks can help determine if your pet has a food allergy. During the trial, your furry pal can eat nothing other than a hypoallergenic diet. After the trial, a food allergen, such as chicken, is reintroduced to your pet’s diet. If your pet reacts, they are deemed allergic to chicken, and that ingredient should be eliminated from their food, treats, and flavored chews.
How will my pet’s allergies be managed?
Once a pet develops allergies, they’ll need lifelong management, because unlike children, pets do not grow out of their allergies. Instead, they tend to worsen with age. Successfully keeping your pet itch-free and comfortable requires a flexible treatment protocol that changes with your four-legged friend’s allergies. Treatment options can include:
- Immunosuppressive medications (i.e., steroids, cyclosporine)
- Itch-suppressant medications (i.e., Apoquel, Cytopoint)
- Medicated shampoos
- Topical and oral skin health supplements
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Prescription diets
- Medicated ear cleaners
- Year-round flea prevention
Minimizing your pet’s allergen exposure is the best way to reduce their allergy flares. Quality flea prevention, frequent vacuuming, washing their bedding, and routine bathing can help keep your pet comfortable, combined with pharmaceutical treatments.
Suffering from allergies is no way to spend the summer. If your furry pal is showing allergy signs, like itchy skin or ear infections, contact our Mill Creek Animal Hospital team to schedule an appointment for us to provide them some relief.