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Posted on 04-29-2016

 Allergies in pets

Did you know your dog or cat can suffer from seasonal allergies just like we do?

Unlike humans whose allergy symptoms usually involve the eyes and respiratory tract, allergies in dogs and cats more often take the form of skin irritation or inflammation – a condition called allergic dermatitis.  Pets with allergies also often have problems with their ears – especially dogs. The ear canals may be itchy and inflamed as part of a generalized allergic response, or they may grow infected with yeast or bacteria.  Respiratory symptoms aren't as common in pets with allergies, they do occur. A running nose, watery eyes, coughing and sneezing are allergic symptoms shared by both two- and four-legged allergy sufferers.

We generally divide allergies into three categories: flea allergy, food allergy, and environmental allergy (atopy).  While it can be hard to determine which type of allergy your pet has (and some have more than one), there are some general rules that can be helpful.

Flea allergy is usually the easiest to diagnose and treat. The presence of fleas or flea dirt (flea feces) on your pet’s coat is a dead giveaway.  However, some pets react to very low numbers of fleas or groom themselves well and remove most signs of fleas.   Most owners first notice frequent and severe itching and scratching, hair loss, and scabs on the dog's skin. Many times the hind end is affected more than the front of the body or the head, however, dogs and cats that are being affected by an allergic reaction to the fleas can have lesions anywhere on the body. Treatment involves strict flea control, decontamination of the environment, and usually medication to treat the itchiness and possible secondary skin infection.  These allergies can occur at any time of year.

In cases of food allergy, the body breaks down the food properly but the immune system over-reacts to certain nutrients (usually proteins), mistaking them for a foreign invader. This can create problems in the GI tract (as with inflammatory bowel disorders) or, more commonly, in the skin. The former typically leads to nasty cases of diarrhea or vomiting, the latter to inflammation in the skin, ear infections, hair loss, anal gland problems, hot spots, etc.  The best way to treat food allergies is with a truly hypoallergenic diet or a diet that only includes proteins your pet has never been exposed to before.  This is a very strict diet that can take 6 weeks or so to take full effect.  These symptoms tend to occur year round.

Seasonal allergies can exhibit the same symptoms as flea and food allergy, but tend to be the worst in spring and fall.  Many pets suffer from April to November. Allergies can develop allergies to ragweed, grasses, pollens, dust mites, molds and trees much like we do.  Blood allergy tests and intradermal allergy testing are available to allow the formulation of desensitization shots. There are also several drugs available to modulate how the immune system responds to allergens to give your pet some much needed relief!

Helping a Pet with Seasonal Allergies

  • Regular baths can give quick relief to an itchy pet and wash away the allergens on the coat and skin. Make sure to use a gentle, preferably soap free, minimally scented shampoo.
  • Wiping your pets’ feet with baby wipes is also a great way to reduce the amount of allergens your pet tracks into the house and limits the amount of time the skin of the paws is exposed to allergens.
  • Keep the areas of your home where your pet spends most of its time as allergen-free as possible. Vacuum and clean floors and pet bedding frequently using simple, non-toxic cleaning agents.  Make sure you change the air filters in your home regularly.
  • Seek veterinary care early because itchy skin is uncomfortable and can easily become infected.

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