Allergies and Your Pet

Spring and summer are wonderful times of the year for most people and pets. There are concerns about pests like ticks, fleas and mosquitoes, the usual. But for a group of people and pets, this time of year brings on allergy symptoms. Yes, pets can develop allergies just like humans, except it generally results in somewhat different symptoms. Where humans tend to get runny, irritated eyes, sneezing and stuffy head problems, pets generally develop skin irritations and itchiness. In some pets with inhalant allergies, the culprit may also affect the eyes, but will most often show up as a dog or cat that can’t seem to scratch enough.

Some of the symptoms can include licking or chewing at the feet, extra rubbing of the face and neck on carpet, furniture, back scratching on grass or carpet and chronic skin and ear infections. A high percentage of recurrent ear infections are actually related to allergies. Poor hair coat or patchy spots of missing hair can also signal problems.

Pets can be allergic to the same things we humans are. Plants, pollens, mold, food, chemicals, dust mites, fleas and dander are just a few examples. While food allergies are a whole other story, the rest of the allergens are very common. We can test for allergies in a couple different ways. As with humans, skin testing can be done. This is usually done in the clinic where the pet is left for several hours. A large area of hair is clipped and the skin is injected in specific areas with certain allergens and the degree of reaction tells which allergens the pet is allergic to. Another test is a simple blood draw, but this does tend to be a little more expensive and not as accurate.

Fleas can produce a pretty severe reaction in some animals. Flea allergy dermatitis is common in dogs and cats, and they don’t have to have many fleas to cause the reaction. The reaction from one flea bite can be enough to send the skin and immune system into overdrive.

Treatment varies upon the severity of symptoms and the actual cause or causes and is aimed at reducing the symptoms since there is no cure. Some pets respond well to simple antihistamines. It can be trial and error to find the correct dose and specific antihistamine. Just because your pet doesn’t respond to one antihistamine, doesn’t mean it won’t improve with a different one. Baths with oatmeal to soothe the skin can also help some pets. Having your pet treated for fleas, whether you see them or not may be necessary. If testing is done, you can start allergy injections. These will help reduce symptoms in about 50 to 70% of allergic pets. There are immune modulating drugs and oral steroids can also be used in the really severe cases.

Some pets will develop secondary skin infections and will need to have this taken care of. You and your veterinarian can determine the best course of action for your particular pet. So if you think your pet has allergies, contact your veterinarian to set up an appointment. Your pet will thank you.