Pet Allergies

Pet Allergies: How To Recognize Them and Treat Them

Just as we humans suffer with seasonal allergies as well as allergies to chemicals, foods and other substances, so do our canine and feline companions. Sometimes they will present with the same symptoms as us, such as watery eyes and sneezing, but the most common symptom in our pets is itchiness, usually resulting in excessive scratching. In fact, the scratching can be so severe it can lead to redness, open sores and even hair loss.

The most common allergies that affect pets are called atopy and are caused by airborne particles. They can include pollen, dust mites and molds. Fortunately this type of allergy is usually seasonal. Symptoms of atopy include chewing the paws, licking the flank and groin, rubbing the face, recurrent hot spots and possibly inflamed ears or recurring ear infections.

Another type of allergy pets suffer with results from flea-bites and is called flea allergy dermatitis. This is usually more common in dogs. The symptoms are similar to the ones described above but can be more severe including hives, facial swelling and even anaphylaxis. Although rare, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. Symptoms usually occur with 20 minutes of exposure to the flea bite, bee sting or chemical and include:  sudden explosive diarrhea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, shock, immobility and muscle-twitching. Seek immediate emergency care if this occurs. If your pet has a history of this, the veterinarian can supply you with an epi-pen; a syringe with a dose of epinephrine that will help with stabilization until emergency care has begun.

Contact dermatitis is an allergy pets can develop from contact with carpets, cleaners, plastics, grass and other such substances. Symptoms include red bumps on the areas of the skin exposed to the allergen, as well as intense scratching and hair loss.

Food allergies are another common problem in both dogs and cats. In fact, they account for 10 – 15% of all of their allergies. Itching on the face, feet, trunk and limbs is the most common symptom but they may also have increased bowel movements and soft stools. Managing a food allergy usually means taking the diet down to bare basics and starting from there.

Diagnosing the source of an allergy is vital to managing it, so a trip to the veterinarian is essential. Allergy tests are sometimes recommended. The allergy test is an intradermal skin test involving injecting various allergens just under the skin and watching for reactions. Once an allergen is determined to be the culprit, treatment can begin.

Treatment can include everything from Benadryl (dosage recommended by veterinarian), antibiotics (such as Atopica), steroid injections, (which have side effects), topical applications such as hydrocortisone, oatmeal- based shampoos, etc.

Other things you can do to manage the allergy are to monitor the pollen count, wipe your pet’s paws with a wet towel after a walk, remove shoes at the door, use a monthly flea treatment, vacuum carpets frequently and wash the animal’s bedding often.

Most importantly, monitor your pet’s symptoms and get professional help as needed.

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