It’s finally warming up but you can’t even stop and smell the roses without ending up in a sniffling, sneezing, pile of exhaustion? Allergies are no fun. And as equally unfun as it is for us, it’s just as frustrating for your pet — who can be allergic to exactly the same things as us.
What to watch for
When pets have allergies, it almost always presents as skin irritation. Watch out for inflammation and itchiness. You’ll also see red ears that are particularly itchy, and inflammation under the armpits and inner thigh, says Dr. Renee Fleming, a veterinarian at Guelph Animal Hospital in Ontario and Vetster veterinarian.
The reaction your cat or dog is having, though, might be more than skin deep. Fleming says digestive issues like vomiting and diarrhea can appear too, as can respiratory issues — though those are more common in cats than dogs.
Typical causes of allergies in pets
Fido or Fluffy’s allergies will typically be one of three types: pest-related, environmental, or food.
Flea allergies are common in pets. That’s why prevention is so important, even if your pet isn’t allergic. Be sure that you’re giving your furball a regular dose of flea and tick prevention during flea season (which can be anything from year-round to just the warmer months, depending on your location) in order to stave off the bugs. And watch out for incessant scratching and bite marks — those can be a sign of fleas.
Just like people, many pets can have seasonal allergies. The flare-ups start at the change of the seasons; you’ll notice your pet start itching more regularly and they may develop skin irritation or a rash. Some of the common culprits for seasonal allergies are plant pollen. Year-round allergies can crop up to, to things like mold spores and dust mites. You may be able to solve the problem by moving to a new climate or irradiating your house for mold or dust, but really it’s better — and easier — to speak with your vet. They can offer solutions to make your pet more comfortable.
Yes, pets can have food allergies. Pets’ allergies to their food are often because of the protein source like chicken, lamb, or beef. Other components of the food are less likely to be the problem. “A lot of pet owners will mistakenly believe that their pet is sensitive to grains like rice, or corn,” Fleming said. “While not impossible, the protein source is generally the culprit.” Similar to other allergies, food allergies in pets manifest as inflammation and itchy skin. Stomach upset can happen as well, although this is quite rare.
And in case you were wondering, yes, pets can have multiple allergies all at the same time. In fact, they very frequently do have more than one allergy. It makes treatment more complicated, but it’s not insurmountable.
For the love of your vet (and pet), don’t try home remedies
It’s totally understandable to want to help your pets with their allergies. But remember, something that works for you might not work for them. And trying home remedies on your pet — like switching to a new food to figure out the allergen, or giving your pup or cat an antihistamine can complicate the problem.
“Long standing skin disease from allergies can take months to improve or resolve, and can be costly,” Dr. Fleming said, noting that many in-store products for pet allergies may not actually be the best course of action for your furry friend because they won't work. “As a veterinarian, it can be frustrating when we are the last ones involved in helping your pet.”
And if you get the urge to try a DNA test for pet allergies, fight it. Dr. Fleming says it’s much better to invest in intradermal allergy testing done at the vet, or to see a veterinary dermatologist. They’ll be able to do the most accurate testing and provide the best course of action for your pet.
Get your pet to the vet for treatment
If it’s been a few days of scratching, and it doesn’t seem to be calming down, or if your pet starts biting or licking their skin, give your vet a call.
“It’s much easier if we can intervene early in the process,” Dr. Fleming said. She says treatment is two-pronged. “We aim to both treat the symptoms of the allergy, and also attempt to discover what caused the reaction in the first place.”
Depending on the reaction and how long it was before getting to the vet, your pet could be fighting a secondary bacterial or yeast infection, Dr. Fleming says, in addition to the skin inflammation. It’s all a recipe for intense itching. Your vet will often prescribe you medicine to help, whether it’s a topical treatment like a shampoo or spray, or a medication like an antibiotic or antifungal, or both, in addition to medication to control the underlying allergic reaction(s).
Vetster vets can often treat allergy problems through virtual visits — so be sure to get in touch if you see any excessive itching, redness, or rashes. Your pet can have a happy and healthy time romping through the flowers this season, no sneezes allowed!
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