Spring has sprung, and with it come miserable days filled with handsful of tissues for your sneezing, watery eyes. Allergies have struck you again this year, and you’re relying on maximum antihistamines to get you through until the pollen counts settle back down. You’ve noticed your pet also seems afflicted with a strange condition that causes excessive itching, because they are constantly chewing and scratching at their skin. More than likely, your furry pal is also suffering from allergies, which can occur in pets seasonally, as they do in people, or year-round. However, allergies in pets generally manifest differently. Here are the three most common allergy types in pets and how to identify them.
#1: Environmental allergies in pets
Environmental allergies cover a wide range of substances that can trigger a flare-up in your pet, seasonally or year-round. Common allergens include pollen, mold, dust mites, fabrics, aerosol sprays, smoke, and cleaning chemicals. Many pets with allergies suffer from seasonal issues with springtime pollen, but their skin problems fully resolve during the winter. Pets who are allergic to dust mites are generally itchy year-round, but their signs can be more severe in the winter when their owners turn on dusty furnaces. Regardless of the cause of your pet’s environmental allergies, signs mostly revolve around licking, chewing, and scratching itchy skin, but also can include:
- Chronic ear infections
- Anal gland impactions
- Red, irritated skin
- Hot spots
- Yeasty skin odor
- Excessive paw chewing
The best way to diagnose your pet’s environmental allergy signs is through intradermal allergy testing. With this test, your pet’s side is shaved, and small amounts of allergenic substances are injected under the skin. If your pet reacts, the severity is noted, and the reaction classified or not as an allergy. Serum testing, which is performed on a blood sample, can also be performed to determine your pet’s allergic response to triggers. Treatment is based on your pet’s allergens, and can involve numerous therapies, including immune-modulating medications, anti-itch treatments, shampoos, antibiotics, antifungals, and skin health supplements.
#2: Flea allergies in pets
Flea allergies are such a severe problem for pets that they have their own category. Signs of pet flea allergies include most of the skin-related signs seen with environmental allergies, but typically presented with hair loss on the hind end and tail base, which is the classic flea allergy sign. You may think you would see an overwhelming flea population crawling through your pet’s fur, but that’s not necessary to trigger a reaction, since only a few fleas can wreak havoc on your furry pal’s hypersensitive immune system and cause a body-wide flare. The best method for managing your pet’s flea allergies is year-round flea prevention, no matter how far the temperature drops in the winter. Corticosteroids can squelch the inflammatory reaction until fleas are banished from your pet and your home, but they are not recommended for long-term use.
#3: Food allergies in pets
A common pet allergy myth is corn being the main cause of itchy skin. However, corn and other grains are extremely unlikely to cause your pet’s food allergies, which are generally rare. Your pet’s true food allergy is most likely caused by the food’s protein source, such as chicken, beef, lamb, dairy products, or eggs. Fish is a common food allergen for cats. Food allergies in pets typically develop because of constant, repeated exposure to the same allergen, and can take years to form. The most common signs include:
- Red, irritated, itchy skin
- Chewing at paws
- Chronic ear infections
- Anal gland issues
Diagnosing food allergies is a time-intensive process. Your pet must go on a strict diet trial for 8 to 12 weeks, during which they can eat only a hypoallergenic diet that does not contain the one allergen you’re testing for. For example, if you think your pet is allergic to chicken, they must be fed a diet, including their treats and toys, with no chicken-based ingredients or flavoring. At the end of the trial, chicken is reintroduced to your pet, and if they flare up, they likely have a chicken allergy. Some pets are allergic to multiple proteins and do best on a hydrolyzed diet composed of a protein source broken down to levels too small for the immune system to identify. Other treatments are largely ineffective against food allergies, but may benefit pets who have multiple allergies.
Are you unsure whether your itchy pet is suffering from allergies? Schedule an appointment with your Country Valley Veterinary Clinic team to get answers for what is troubling your pet, and to alleviate their itching.