As a small animal veterinarian, I want to address the most common condition I treat at my animal hospital, pet allergies. Did you know that pets develop skin infections, ear infections, and itchiness as a response to allergies, unlike humans, who present with runny noses, coughing, sneezing or red watery eyes when allergies attack? So today, I would like to help answer some of the questions most commonly asked by my pet parents dealing with pet allergies. Why is my pet so itchy? What signs do I look for to know it’s an allergy? And can you please do something to relieve his or her discomfort, so we can all can get some sleep?!
The Most Common Pet Allergies
Food Allergies. There are 2 different types of allergies to foods in dogs, a hypersensitivity reaction and an intolerance. A hypersensitivity reaction involves the body’s immune system which produces a reaction when exposed to an allergen over time. Food intolerance can occur with the first exposure to food and is commonly seen in young animals. It is important to note that both types of allergy, hypersensitivity or intolerance, can present in the same way and be difficult to tell apart without veterinary guidance. Contrary to common belief, pets with food allergies are generally allergic to the protein from animal or plant-based ingredients in their diet. The proteins are broken down into molecules that the immune system misidentifies as foreign and a threat to the body. Chicken, beef, and eggs are the most common types of food allergies, but sometimes we see soy and gluten allergies as well.
Flea Allergies. Flea allergies are caused by flea bites and are a very common cause of allergies in pets. The saliva in the flea bite causes a severe itchy response and many times a secondary skin infection. The most common clinical signs you may see are hair loss, scratching, chewing, biting intensely at the tail, hind end, and legs, open and oozing sores, and/or skin damage due to scratching/licking.
Atopy. A pet may have allergies to environmental allergens such as pollens, grasses, or soils. The most common clinical signs you may see are licking at the paws (many times after coming in from outside), generalized hair loss, scratching, chewing, or biting intensely, skin damage due to scratching/licking, and ear infections.
What are the Treatment Options for Pet Allergies?
The first step is to work with your veterinarian to determine if your pet is suffering from allergies, and if so, the cause of the allergic reaction. A food allergy requires placing your pet on a prescription hypoallergenic diet. If your pet is allergic to fleas, veterinarians can prescribe flea preventatives that are very effective and most importantly, safe for your pets. Environmental allergies to things such as pollen, grasses or soils are more difficult to treat, but there are many treatment options available.
The second step is to have your veterinarian determine the type of infection your pet has for proper treatment. Many times, your veterinarian will recommend skin scrapes, skin cytology, cultures, or bloodwork to assess the type of infection and treat accordingly.
What Can We Do to Relieve the Itchiness?
It is important to allow your veterinarian to assess and make a treatment plan for your pet’s allergy. There are many treatments available, and every pet is unique. Treatment regimens need to be prescribed by your veterinarian. Here is my top list for treatment of allergies and associated skin infections:
- Proper monthly flea preventative.
- Hypoallergenic diet. If your pet has been diagnosed with food allergies
- Weekly medicated shampoos prescribed by your veterinarian for active skin infection.
- Omega 3 fatty acids supplementation – Forever Freckled Pet Skin Support Chews- a soft chew treat with prescription level omega 3 and 6 fatty acids
- Proper and effective flea and tick preventatives.
- Hypoallergenic vaccinations.
- If severe, referral to veterinarian dermatologist.
Unfortunately, allergies are a common problem for our furry friends, but fortunately there are many things we can do to help. I try and stress to my clients that allergies in pets are not treatable, but they are manageable. My goal is relieving your pet as much as possible to provide him or her with less breakouts, less itching, and more comfort. Speak with your veterinarian to discuss an appropriate treatment plan for your pet’s allergies!