Spring is in the air, and that means so are a number of seasonal allergens that could be making you and your pet miserable. That’s right: Our pets can suffer the effects of allergies, too. And, like us, if an animal is sensitive to something in his environment or a food he eats, his body will produce antibodies in an attempt to protect itself. Those antibodies release chemicals into the bloodstream, including histamine, which act on the skin, ears, eyes, throat, nose, and gastrointestinal tract, producing the unpleasant symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Your pet could react to a number of potential allergens in his environment. Some of the most common include:
- Grasses, trees, weeds, plants, pollens, molds, or mildews
- Various food ingredients, like corn, wheat, soy, or meat products
- Prescription medications
- Dust or dander
- Cat litters
- Cleaning products
- Cigarette smoke
How will you know if your pet is suffering from allergies? Watch for problems in the following four areas:
Pet allergy symptom #1: Problems with the skin
When a pet’s allergic reaction is skin-related, we call the condition allergic dermatitis. The most common reaction pets have when exposed to allergens, allergic dermatitis leads to skin irritation and inflammation. Pets with allergic dermatitis will obsessively attempt to relieve their inflamed and itchy skin.
- Excessive scratching and/or chewing at particular areas of the body
- Rubbing against furniture and other objects
- Open sores, scabbing, and hair loss around the affected areas
When allergic dermatitis is caused by an allergy to fleas, we call it flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). When a flea bites an animal, it injects saliva under the animal’s skin. Flea bites will cause any animal to feel itchy and uncomfortable, but many animals are hypersensitive to the flea saliva and will have an allergic reaction when bitten. FAD causes a longer, more intense reaction (up to 2 weeks after a bite) than typical itching associated with flea bites.
- Rash or raised bumps that might resemble pimples
- Hair loss
- Irritated, raw, or bleeding areas as a result of excessive scratching, biting, or grooming (dogs often experience this near their back legs, stomach, or tail, but cats will usually experience this around the neck and face)
Pet allergy symptom #2: Problems with the ears
Dogs are especially prone to allergy-related ear problems. What may begin as itchy or irritated ears could escalate into a serious ear infection.
- Scratching at the ears
- Frequent head shaking
- Hair loss around the ears
- Discharge (often with an unpleasant odor) coming from the ears
Pet allergy symptom #3: Problems with the respiratory system
Many humans who suffer from allergies—especially environmental allergies—will experience respiratory symptoms similar to those of a cold. Although less common than allergic dermatitis, our pets can experience similar respiratory-related allergy symptoms.
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Snoring (due to inflammation of the throat)
Pet allergy symptom #4: Problems with the gastrointestinal system
Food allergies are often the culprit when a pet has a gastrointestinal allergic reaction.
- Excessive gas
- Scooting or redness around the anus
Diagnosing your pet’s allergies
If your pet is showing signs of a possible allergic reaction, call our office. To diagnose your pet’s condition and determine the specific allergen(s), we’ll conduct a thorough exam, including any appropriate blood or skin tests.
If we suspect your pet is allergic to a food ingredient, we’ll recommend an elimination diet to determine the specific ingredient he should avoid.
Some pets with severe allergies may be referred to a veterinary dermatologist for more in-depth allergy skin testing and treatment.
Treating and preventing your pet’s allergies
Once we’ve determined what your pet is allergic to, it’s important to avoid those substances when possible. Some allergens—like dust—are more difficult to avoid than others, but there are ways you can help to minimize your pet’s exposure.
For example, some pets with environmental allergies might benefit from bathing once per week. Bathing this often can strip your pet’s skin of its natural oils, though, so be sure to ask us about shampoos that will help to moisturize your pet’s skin.
Additionally, you should attempt to keep your pet’s environment as clean as possible to minimize exposure to potential allergens. Clean bedding, curtains, and flooring often.
All pets, but especially those that struggle with flea allergies, should be given a year-round flea preventive medication.
Dogs and cats with more severe allergies might also benefit from:
- Fatty acid supplements
- Immune-modulating medications
- Short-term steroid therapy
- Allergy injections
With so many different allergens, types of allergic reactions, and potential treatments, it’s important to call our office at 256-859-2221 for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Do not attempt to diagnose your pet’s condition on your own, and only give your pet medications we recommend.