Pet Allergies

Pet Allergies

What are pet allergies?

An allergy is a state of over-reactivity or hypersensitivity to an allergen. Most allergens are proteins. The allergen protein may be of insect, plant or animal origin.  Some allergens are inhaled, some allergens are ingested, and some allergens cause contact irritation. No matter the route of exposure, the end result is an itchy dog if your pet suffers from allergies.

What are the allergens that affect our pets?

There are numerous substances that can act as allergens. Flea saliva, tick saliva, tree pollens (cedar, oak, ash), flower pollens, grasses and weed pollens (ragweed), as well as molds, mildew, and house dust mites, are the most common allergy offenders.  Some plant and animal proteins found in foods can cause allergies as well as some food additives.  The most common cause of allergies in our pets is fleas and the least common cause of allergies is food.  Up to 80% of our pets with allergic dermatitis are very allergic to fleas so flea control is absolutely essential in the allergic pet.

Environmental Allergies

Depending on where you and your pet call home, your pet may be reacting to certain plants, seasonal changes or moldy areas around you. Other factors like dust, dander and particles in the air may also irritate your animal. Even taking your pet on a walk down the street can introduce them to unfamiliar substances, like rainwater or plants in the neighbor’s garden, that can initiate a response.

Plants To Avoid

Pollen, which plants produce, causes negative reactions in many people and animals. Certain plants expel more pollen than others. The trees you should avoid to keep your pet’s allergies at bay are birch, elm, cedar, oak, poplar, walnut and pine. Other plants that can trigger allergic symptoms from their pollen output include ragweed, Bermuda grass, bluegrass and nettle. Try to keep your pet from contact with male junipers and yew, too. Sagebrush, daylily and primrose also irritate upon skin contact.

Seasonal Allergies In Cats & Dogs

Seasonal changes spark allergy symptoms due to pollen output in the spring. When pollen enters your environment again with warmer weather and your dog or cat begins to scratch, it could be an environmental allergy disrupting your pet’s day-to-day life. However, if you live in an area with few differences from summer to winter, it can be difficult to identify allergies to grasses and other plants that don’t die off. Your pet may be allergic to a kind of grass that sticks around all year.

Other Environmental Factors

Things in your home could be setting off your pet’s allergies, too. Mold is a typical environmental allergen that you may not know is in your house. Spores can appear in your kitchen, bathroom and other damp places, creating an irritant for your animal’s immune system. Carpet fibers and certain fabrics can even retain indoor allergens. Dust mites, which often appear during the winter, can be bothering your pet as well.

How To Prevent Environmental Allergy Symptoms For Dogs And Cats

Seasonal allergies for pets are difficult to avoid, but you can control several environmental factors that are affecting your pet. Diminish the effects of indoor allergens by reducing pollen buildup. Regular baths for your animal can get rid of pollen, dust and mites that attach to their skin or fur. Clean the house frequently during seasonal changes to keep allergies at bay, and introduce dehumidifiers into moist areas of your home to prevent mold. If you do notice mold build up, be proactive in eliminating it.

Your vet may perform a skin test or blood test on your pet to determine if the most common environmental allergens give them a reaction. However, these are often inconclusive. Consult your veterinarian to determine what steps you can take to protect your pet from environmental allergens.

Flea Allergies

A flea allergy is more than reacting to flea bites with a normal level of scratching. Hypersensitivity to fleas happens when flea saliva irritates an animal’s skin. When fleas bite animals, their saliva comes into direct contact with the pet’s skin. Prolonged scratching and discomfort from flea bites can create skin wounds that may become infected.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Flea allergy dermatitis is the term for a pet’s intense reaction to flea saliva. Adult fleas can bite your dog or cat during any season, but frequently, these allergic reactions occur in the summer. A humid and warm setting helps fleas produce and grow in number. Your pet’s fur fits these conditions during the summer, too, which makes it a desirable spot for fleas to settle in. Over time, this allergy develops, so if your pet has not been overly sensitive to fleas in the past, they still might form an allergy later on in their life.

Signs Of Flea Allergies

If your pet is scratching or rubbing significantly more than normal and you find signs of fleas or bites on their skin, your pet may have a flea allergy. Check to see if the areas around flea bites are red and inflamed. Around the tail, rear and abdomen are common spots for dogs to develop inflamed flea bites. For cats, the neck, as well as the lower back and tail area, are also targeted by fleas. It only takes a few bites for your animal to undergo extreme itching and skin irritation.

Examine your pet by looking at their back or belly areas. Fleas are normally visible if they are present. You may need to comb through or spread apart your pet’s hair to get a closer view of the skin. You will not only notice the presence of fleas if your pet is allergic to their saliva. Red spots surrounding the bites will tell your vet whether or not your animal has an allergy. Scabs, bumps, hair loss and hot spots are all possible signs of a flea allergy.

How To Prevent Flea Allergies

Preventative flea measures include oral pills, collars and topical ointments. Topical ointments can arm your pet against fleas. Adulticide ointments can be regularly applied to keep fleas from harming your pet. These are safe options because they remain on the skin, which is where your pet’s reaction is located, rather than absorbing into the bloodstream. The pill version of this may be a better choice for your animal. A flea collar that targets juvenile fleas is effective at preventing infestations. Be wary of insecticidal flea collars, though, and don’t use them without additional preventatives. Preventatives that interrupt the life cycle of fleas are better at eliminating infestations. Cats are more sensitive to certain insecticides, so be careful in your choice of flea medication.

How To Treat Flea Allergies

If preventative measures fail or an existing infestation is plaguing your pet, you can treat your pet’s allergy with medication and ointment to ease the itching. An oral or a topical medication can reduce the pain and constant itching, and some vets also prescribe an injected medicine to reduce these symptoms. If inflammation has led to wound infection, you may need an antibiotic for your animal. A cool bath can also relieve your pet’s skin and wash away fleas.

Food Allergies

Environmental allergies are more common in pets than food allergies, but animals still can develop negative reactions to their regular diet. There are many myths about what ingredients cause your pet harm in their food. Allergies to food are an immune response, normally to animal proteins, but your pet’s unique system can be more sensitive to a food and react in an unusual way. It’s also more likely for your pet to develop an allergy to foods in their regular diet — as the allergic reaction develops over time — rather than something that has been just introduced.

Animal Proteins

Prevalent food allergies in pets usually consist of animal proteins — because these are the foods that most animals eat regularly. Dairy and egg allergies are also frequently reported, as well as fish allergies for cats. While protein is necessary for a pet’s diet, the proteins of certain things, like chicken, beef and pork, could trigger your pet’s immune system, leading to the allergy.

Grain Or Gluten-Free Diets

Gluten is one of the substances that pets rarely form an allergy to, although many food companies present gluten-free food as the solution to your pet’s allergies. No evidence sufficiently indicates that grain-free food is better for pets with allergies, however. Each individual pet with allergy symptoms has to be tested to identify their particular allergy, and gluten-free food cannot cure all allergic animals. Even corn, which is often relegated to simply a filler ingredient, is not a harmful ingredient to animals and can actually be beneficial unless a certain animal is allergic to it.

Signs Of Pet Food Allergies

In cats, food allergies are evident from skin lesions that form and burst, causing itching and further wounds from scratching. Additionally, the fur coat becomes shorter or starts to thin due to an allergy. Other pets also experience itching, loss of appetite and skin rashes or wounds. Gastrointestinal discomfort can happen as well with symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea.

How To Treat Pet Food Allergies

Instead of turning to a food labeled gluten-free or allergen-free, consult your veterinarian about a diet trial. They will help you decide the course of action to evaluate your pet’s diet. Elimination trials are best guided by a professional. Usually, the food to which your pet is allergic has been in their diet for about two years, which means the ingredient is a familiar one. Typically, you will limit your pet to a diet of a new protein and carbohydrate source that is different from their current food. You should also remove any other flavored additives, like treats or rawhide, from your pet’s diet. Even chew toys can disrupt an elimination trial.

Consult Your Veterinarian

Preventative measures and treatment methods differ for each pet, but your veterinarian can assist you in with the best plan for your pet. A professional’s opinion is the deciding factor on what is causing the allergic reaction in your pet. Whether your pet has a food, environmental or flea allergy, your vet can help relieve your pet’s itchy skin and reduce the chances of future reactions.

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Shallowford Animal Hospital and The Pet Spa at Shallowford are dedicated to the exceptional, compassionate care your pet deserves. Pets hold a very special place in our families, and we treat yours like our own.