Allergies in pets are relatively common, and although they can appear somewhat similar to allergies in people, they can also be vastly different. Our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team answers some of the most common questions we routinely field about allergies in cats and dogs. 

Question: What is an allergy?

Answer: An allergy occurs when your pet has been exposed to a substance, whether a few times or continuously over a long period, and their immune system develops a hypersensitivity to this allergen. When the allergen is introduced to your pet again, their immune system kicks into overdrive, creating an excessive inflammatory response to a benign substance. 

Q: What causes allergies in pets?

A: Like people, pets can develop an allergy to any substance they come across. However, allergies in pets fall into three common categories:

  • Environmental allergies — Environmental allergies cover a wide range of allergens that include pollen, mold, dust mites, aerosol sprays, smoke, and fabrics. 
  • Flea allergies — Flea allergies are so common, they’ve reserved their own special category. Pets with flea allergies are allergic to the saliva from a flea bite, so a handful of fleas can be incredibly uncomfortable for an allergic pet.
  • Food allergies — Pets with food allergies are typically allergic to the proteins found in their diet. The most common food allergies include chicken, beef, lamb, eggs, and dairy products, while cats can also be allergic to fish.

Q: Isn’t corn one of the most common allergens for pets?

A: Contrary to popular belief—and pet food marketing—pets are typically not allergic to the grain in their food, much less corn. True food allergies in pets are rare, and a pet with a food allergy likely is allergic to the protein source. A food allergy is generally best treated with a hypoallergenic diet, rather than a grain-free one. In fact, grain-free diets are under investigation by the FDA for a potential link with dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that has been found in dogs not prone to developing the disease.

Q: Don’t pets get watery eyes and sneeze like people do with allergies?

A: While pets can develop the same upper respiratory signs, like sneezing, watery eyes, and congestion, as people, they’re much more likely to display allergic reactions through their skin. This means that your itchy pet can be suffering from allergies, especially if you notice a seasonal itchiness pattern. Common allergy signs in pets include:

  • Licking, chewing, and scratching at skin
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Anal gland impactions
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Hot spots
  • Yeasty skin odor
  • Excessive paw chewing
  • Hair loss, especially on the hind end and tail base

Pets with food allergies may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.

Q: How are allergies diagnosed in my pet?

A: Hair loss and itchy skin can be signs of other conditions, especially endocrine disorders, in pets, so a diagnostic workup is necessary to determine whether your pet has allergies. Your Gentle Touch Animal Hospital veterinarian will perform baseline blood work to rule out other conditions, listen carefully to your pet’s history, and perform a thorough physical exam, and allergy testing. In some cases, a pet will be referred to a veterinary dermatologist to undergo intradermal allergy testing, but we can perform serum allergy testing in our hospital. Your pet’s blood sample will help identify environmental substances that trigger their allergies. However, intradermal and serum testing do not work for food allergies, which require a strict dietary trial for 8 to 12 weeks. During this time, your pet must eat only a hypoallergenic diet. At the end of the trial, common food allergens, like chicken and beef, will be reintroduced to see if your pet reacts.

Q: What treatments are available for my pet’s allergies?

A: A pet’s allergies will change over their lifetime, requiring updated treatment protocols to keep them comfortable and itch-free. Depending on your pet’s allergen, any combination of the following therapies may provide maximum itch relief:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Apoquel
  • Cytopoint
  • Medicated shampoos
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Skin health supplements
  • Medicated ear cleaners
  • Year-round flea prevention
  • Prescription diets
  • Immunotherapy

Although your pet’s allergies are a lifetime condition, they can be successfully managed with regular veterinary care that squelches a reaction before becoming severe.

Has your furry pal developed the urge to constantly chew their paws? Or, do their ears always seem smelly and full of debris, although you cleaned them yesterday? These signs and more may mean your pet has allergies. Contact our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team to schedule your itchy pet’s appointment to get them some relief.