Typically when people suffer from allergies, they experience coughing, sneezing, and irritated eyes. Pets may also be affected by allergies, but they tend to show that through excessive scratching. Three main types of allergies torment pets. Our team at All Pets Medical Center wants you to know the causes, signs, and treatments of pet allergies so you can recognize if your pet develops a hypersensitivity.

#1: Flea allergies in pets

This is the most common type of allergy that affects pets. While flea allergies typically show up in the summer, pets living in warm climates may have problems year-round. When a flea bites your pet, saliva is injected into their skin, and the allergic reaction they have is a result of the substances found in the saliva. In addition to severe itchiness, your dog may develop crusty lesions at the base of their tail, lower back, and inner thighs. Cats may have similar lesions on their neck, face, and back.

Pets affected by flea allergies usually do not show symptoms until they are a year old. They will be restless and scratch, lick, rub, and chew almost constantly. Diagnosis mainly comes through observing fleas on your pet. You should also examine your pet’s bedding for fleas or flea droppings. In extreme cases, you may not see any fleas because your pet is excessively grooming in an attempt to lessen their discomfort. 

Treatment starts with eliminating all fleas from your pet’s body. The next step is to remove all fleas from your pet’s environment. A single flea can cause a severe reaction, making complete eradication necessary for relief. Steroids can be helpful initially to decrease inflammation but should not be used long term. Year-round flea control is paramount to controlling a flea allergy.

#2: Environmental allergies in pets

This type of allergy has the fancy alias atopic dermatitis. Common offenders that trigger hypersensitivity include grass, mold spores, house dust mites, and pet dander. Pets can begin showing signs at any age, but typically symptoms start between 1 and 6 years of age.

Dog breeds more frequently affected include:

  • Golden retrievers
  • Shih tzus
  • Bulldogs
  • Poodles
  • Cocker spaniels

Diagnosing atopic dermatitis can be difficult. Serologic testing measures the antibodies in the blood that have developed in response to the allergen, but the results are frequently unreliable. Intradermal testing tends to be more definitive and is done by injecting the test allergen into your pet’s skin. The area will swell slightly and become red if they are allergic to that particular substance. These tests can be expensive. In milder cases, forgoing diagnostics and starting treatment may be warranted.

Bathing your pet with a medicated or prescription strength shampoo can help relieve their symptoms. The shampoo ingredients calm inflamed skin, and the bathing removes allergens from your pet’s coat. Steroids can help quiet your pet’s initial inflammatory response but should not be used long term. Our veterinarian also may recommend hyposensitization therapy, which involves administering the problematic allergen in gradually increasing quantities to desensitize your pet’s overactive immune system. This is not a cure for atopic dermatitis, and your pet will need to remain under your veterinarian’s care throughout their life to control the symptoms.

#3: Food allergies in pets

Pets can become hypersensitive to ingredients in their food. Usually their allergic response is to a protein, but carbohydrates or preservatives can also be culprits. The most common sign of food allergies is itchy skin, but vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. Food allergies typically show up before your pet is a year old, but they can be affected at any age. 

Diagnosing a food allergy requires a 10- to 12-week food trial, which involves feeding your pet only novel ingredients, including such foods as venison and potatoes, duck and peas, salmon and potatoes, and kangaroo and spinach. Another option is to use a hydrolyzed diet that contains proteins broken down into such small particles that your pet’s immune system won’t recognize them. Starch or rice is usually used as the carbohydrate since they are typically not associated with allergic responses. When your pet’s signs have resolved, the proteins from their former diet are gradually re-introduced into their diet to determine what substance is causing the reaction. Once the culprit has been pinpointed, it can be permanently excluded from your pet’s diet. 

Regardless of the allergy type your pet may suffer, secondary skin and ear infections are common, and usually need treatment with long-term antibiotics or antifungals. Our team at All Pets Medical Center would like to help you manage your pet’s allergies, so  don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule an appointment for your itchy friend.