If your pet has allergies, you know that treatment is not straightforward, because the offending allergen must be identified before a management strategy can be determined. Common pet allergens include flea bites, environmental allergens, and food, and most allergic pets have itchy skin that they excessively scratch, lick, rub, and chew. Our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital wants to help by explaining treatment recommendations for common pet allergies.

Treating flea bite allergies in pets

Flea bite allergies are the most commonly diagnosed allergies in pets. Many cats and dogs are severely allergic to flea saliva, and a single flea bite can cause excessively itchy skin. Other signs include skin lesions and hair loss on the pet’s lower back, tail area, thighs, and abdomen. Finding a flea or flea dirt (i.e., flea droppings) in your pet’s coat or bedding indicates a flea allergy. Our veterinarian may prescribe medication to address your pet’s initial reaction, but the best treatment involves eliminating all fleas from your pet’s coat and their environment, which involves the following steps:

  • Killing the fleas on your pet — Bathe your pet with an appropriate shampoo that will kill the fleas on their coat and skin. Once their coat is dry, apply flea prevention medication. Ensure they receive year-round protection to prevent a recurrence.
  • Killing the fleas in your pet’s bedding — Wash your pet’s bedding to kill the fleas and flea eggs. 
  • Killing the fleas in your pet’s environment — Use a high powered vacuum on the carpet and upholstery in your pet’s environment, and spray hard surfaces with an appropriate insecticide to kill the fleas at all life stages. Your yard should also be treated if your pet spends time there. Ensure the insecticide spray is dry before allowing your pet in treated areas.

Treating environmental allergies in pets

Pets can be allergic to environmental allergens such as pollen, weeds, dust mites, mold, and pet dander. Pets with these allergies have atopy, and their signs typically manifest between 1 and 3 years of age. Areas commonly affected include the ears, face, feet, armpits, and abdomen, but any body area can exhibit signs. When our veterinary team suspects atopy, we may conduct a steroid trial to see if your pet’s signs resolve, since the condition typically responds well to this therapy. If your pet responds to steroid treatment, we can perform allergy testing to determine the specific problematic allergens. Treatment for atopic pets is multi-faceted and includes:

  • Bathing — Weekly bathing using a calming shampoo can remove allergens from your pet’s skin and help calm irritation. 
  • Wiping — Over-bathing can damage your pet’s skin, but between bathing, you can wipe down their coat, limbs, and abdomen with a wet cloth after being outdoors.
  • Steroids — Steroids can effectively treat signs in atopic pets, but they should be used sparingly, since they can cause side effects, including immune suppression, excessive hunger, increased thirst and urination, and increased blood sugar levels.
  • Anti-itch medications — Anti-itch medications can help alleviate your pet’s distress, and our veterinary professionals will determine the best product for your pet.
  • Fatty acid supplementation — Fatty acid supplements can help improve your pet’s skin health and decrease inflammation.
  • Hyposensitization therapy — This is considered the gold standard treatment for atopic pets. Our team will use the information obtained from allergy testing to produce injections that we will administer in gradually increasing doses to desensitize your pet. This therapy takes about 6 to 12 months to be effective, but allergy shots reduce signs in 60% to 80% of pets. 

Treating food allergies in pets

Food allergies are rare in pets, but when they occur, the offending ingredient is typically the protein source. Common food allergens include beef, poultry, eggs, dairy, and carbohydrate sources such as wheat and soy. Pets with food allergies react with skin problems that usually involve the ears, feet, under the tail, and abdomen, and may also have gastrointestinal signs, including diarrhea, vomiting, and chronic gas. In contrast to atopic pets, food allergic pets typically don’t respond to steroids. We can use medications to control your pet’s allergic response, but the only definitive way to diagnose and treat a food allergy is a food elimination trial. Steps include:

  • Providing your pet’s diet history — For a successful elimination trial, you must avoid ingredients your pet has eaten previously. This means you will be asked to provide a thorough history about your pet’s diet.
  • Selecting an elimination diet — Your pet will be placed on a novel diet that includes ingredients they have never eaten, or a hydrolyzed diet, where the protein has been broken down into extremely small pieces that the immune system will no longer recognize as a threat.
  • Practicing patience — Your pet must remain on the trial diet for at least eight weeks, and they must strictly adhere to the diet for the duration. This means no table scraps, unsanctioned treats, or flavored medications. 
  • Returning to your pet’s old diet — If your pet’s signs improve on the trial diet, they will be returned to their old diet to verify that the food was causing their signs.
  • Determining the culprit — Once a food allergy is verified, your pet can be challenged with each ingredient from their old diet to determine the cause of their reaction. This ingredient should be removed from their diet indefinitely.

Treating pet allergies is not straightforward, but taking the time to diagnose the causative allergen will help ensure successful treatment. If you think your pet may have an allergy, contact our Fear Free team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital, so we can determine the cause, start the appropriate treatment, and provide relief for your pet.