Allergies Are Not Just for People: How to Spot and Treat Allergies in Pets

All animalsespecially dogs, cats, and horsesare subject to environmental and food irritants that cause seasonal and/or chronic allergies. Be a wise pet owner and learn allergy signs and symptoms so you can quickly spot your pet is in trouble.

Signs of allergies in pets

Dogs and cats usually exhibit chronic sneezing, wheezing, or coughing, the classic allergy signs. Ear reactions and skin problems, including hair loss due to excessive scratching, red rashes, and bumps or hives, are also common in pets with allergies. Pets with food allergies may experience chronic gas and/or frequently lick their feet.

Types of pet allergies

Allergens can be environmental or food-based, and your veterinarian can test your pet to determine the cause of her reaction. Allergens can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin or intestines and cause the immune system to produce antibodies. Each time your pet is exposed to the allergen, more antibodies are formed, and eventually histamines that cause inflammation are released.

Environmental allergens: Any of the following can cause allergic reactions in pets:

  • Trees
  • Grass
  • Mildew/mold
  • Perfumes, including diffused or applied essential oils
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fabrics
  • Rubber and plastic
  • Houseplants, flowers, and pollen, especially lily pollen
  • Fleas and flea-borne allergens

Food allergies: Most people think food allergies manifest only through gastrointestinal distress, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and bloody stool, but they can cause skin reactions, too. Cats who scratch around the mouth and face could be reacting to food. Cats and dogs, like people, can become intolerant or allergic to different food components as they age. The most likely culprits are proteins, such as fish, chicken, beef, or lamb, but grains, eggs, and dairy are also possible.

Treatment of pet allergies

An elimination diet is the only way to determine if your pet is sensitive to a food allergen, and our team can provide guidance for a different diet that may include a protein not typically found in commercial pet food, such as rabbit or kangaroo, or hydrolyzed protein that is already broken down beyond the point where the body recognizes it as an allergen. Following all the veterinarian’s instructions during the diet trial, including no pre-approved treats, table food, toothpaste, or bones, is critical. The presence of a pre-existing diet allergen could negate the entire food trial.

For pets suffering with environmental allergies, steps can be taken to mitigate the presence of the particular allergen. For a cat with dust or perfume sensitivities, use a natural, unscented litter, or switch to a wood or wheat-based litter. Essential oils can be toxic to pets, so always use these substances with caution, and never apply oils, even diluted, directly to your pet’s skin. If you use diffused oils, be sure your pet can leave the room and get fresh air. Pets can be bathed weekly using veterinarian-approved products to help with skin reactions or pollen and other yard allergens, but be aware that too much bathing can dry out the skin. Vacuum your home often and frequently wash your pet’s bedding with hypoallergenic laundry soap to help keep common environmental allergens at bay.

If simple changes to your environment do not reduce your pet’s symptoms, we may prescribe an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, or a steroid or allergy injection. Because fleas are a common environmental allergen and can carry irritants, flea prevention and mitigation is essential.

Your pet will thank you, and be happier and more comfortable, when you know the signs and symptoms of environmental or food allergies. Do you suspect your pet is suffering from allergies? Call us to schedule an appointment.