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Demystifying Pet Allergies

While allergies cannot be eliminated, your veterinarian can effectively control your pet's response to allergens, ensuring their comfort and quality of life with precise diagnosis and tailored therapeutic interventions.

Dr Treat
Demystifying Pet Allergies

Key takeaway

It is important to manage your pet's allergy symptoms to ensure their well-being and prevent long-term discomfort and secondary infections. If you notice any signs of allergies in your pet, the Dr. Treat team can effectively address and neutralize the allergy threats your pet may be facing.

our pet's allergy signs may not resemble typical allergies, making them harder to identify and treat, despite causing sneezing, congestion, and irritated, watery eyes.

However, keep in mind, no matter the species—animal or human—allergies make everyone miserable. Read our Dr. Treat team guide to learn why pet allergies occur, how to recognize them, and the best ways to help your pet find relief.

Allergy signs in pets

Because of their unique presentation, pets’ allergy signs can be mistaken for skin issues, gastrointestinal conditions, and behavior disorders. Without a proper veterinary diagnosis, you will have little or no success if you try to manage your pet’s problems at home. Your pet needs a proper veterinary diagnosis that addresses the underlying trigger (i.e., the allergy).

To help you identify your pets’ allergies, keep an eye out for these common signs:

  • Excessive skin scratching
  • Hair pulling
  • Hair coat changes
  • Skin infections
  • Skin changes (e.g., thickening, thinning, pigmentation)
  • Recurring ear infections
  • Skin sores, hives, hot spots
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Inconsistent stools
  • Tail base hair loss 
  • Respiratory signs (e.g., watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, asthma-like signs)

Common pet allergies

While any substance could be a potential pet allergen, most allergens belong to one of the following three major categories:

Environmental allergy

This category includes naturally occurring substances—often inhaled—such as pollens, grass, weeds, mold, and dust. Inhaled environmental allergens (i.e., atopy) may typically appear in the spring and summer, but resolve during the fall and winter (e.g., seasonal) or persist year-round. Most pets who have atopy begin to show signs between 6 months and 2 years of age. 

Food allergy

Dogs and cats can become sensitized to their food’s specific ingredients, especially after eating the same diet for months or years. In general, pets are more sensitive to proteins—not grains—but any carbohydrate can be an allergen. The most common pet food allergens include chicken, beef, lamb, soy, and wheat. Cats may also react to fish. Unlike environmental allergies, food allergies can begin at any age.

Flea allergy

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a pet’s severe allergic response to a specific protein in flea saliva. While fleas are an uncomfortable nuisance for all pets, if your pet has FAD, a single flea bite can cause intense irritation and inflammation. Pets with FAD typically display hair loss around the tail base—a popular flea-bite location.

Pets can suffer from more than one allergy type, and because the various types have similar signs, only your pet’s Dr. Treat veterinarian can determine their allergies’ causes after completing your pet’s full examination.

Allergy diagnosis for pets

Your pet’s Dr. Treat veterinarian or our virtual care team will ask you specific questions about your pet’s lifestyle (i.e., diet, activity, medications, and grooming routine). Your responses will help us personalize your pet’s care and pinpoint their allergy’s potential cause. 

During your pet’s clinic visit, we will perform a complete nose-to-tail examination to evaluate your pet’s skin and coat, looking for abnormal changes, infection, parasites, and inflammation. Afterward, we may recommend additional testing, such as:

Skin cytology

Frequent skin irritation can lead to secondary bacterial infections. This test checks for abnormal cells and bacteria on your pet’s skin.

Skin scrape

Some less common parasites (e.g., mites) like to burrow in the skin, causing irritation and hair loss. We view your pet’s skin scrape at a microscopic level to identify these tiny but aggravating parasites.

Blood work

Many health changes can affect your pet’s skin and coat. We recommend blood work if we suspect your pet has an endocrine dysfunction or other internal abnormalities.

Bacterial or fungal culture

If your pet has a skin infection, your veterinarian will perform a culture and sensitivity test to ensure we select the most effective medication to clear the infection.

Allergy testing

Allergy testing is the only method for accurately identifying specific allergens. Depending on your pet’s suspected allergy, our Dr. Treat veterinary team may recommend one of  the following available testing methods:

  • Serum allergy testing – This test analyzes your pet’s blood sample for inhalant allergen antibodies.  
  • Sking testing – This testing method involves injecting small volumes of specific allergens beneath your pet’s skin to measure their inflammatory response. Considered the gold standard in diagnosing allergies, skin testing requires referral to a veterinary dermatologist.
  • Food trial – If a food allergy is suspected, your Dr. Treat veterinarian will recommend a feeding trial, which involves feeding your pet one specific food—often a novel protein or hypoallergenic diet—for at least eight weeks, with no additional treats, snacks, or human food. If your pet’s allergy signs subside during this time, a food allergy is confirmed. But, keep in mind that determining the precise allergy ingredient requires extended testing.

Allergy treatment options for pets

Although allergies cannot be cured, your Dr. Treat veterinarian can successfully manage your pet’s reaction to their allergens, improve their comfort, and enhance their quality of life through accurate diagnosis and customized therapeutic treatments.

Treatments can vary greatly based on your pet’s diagnosis and individual needs. Our Dr. Treat team continually strives to deliver your pet’s personalized treatment plan—traditional or entirely unique. Remember, your pet’s allergy management is a multistep process that addresses three key areas:

Blocking the itch

Pets’ allergy medications interrupt the internal signal that tells them to scratch. Some medications may also reduce inflammation.

Addressing secondary conditions

If your pet has a skin infection, we may administer oral or injectable antibiotics, antifungals, or topical preparations such as medicated shampoos, wipes, or ointments.

Reducing exposure

Limiting your pet’s exposure to known or suspected allergens is crucial to prevent triggering their immune system. While some allergens (e.g., dust, mold) may be unavoidable, to reduce allergen exposure, avoid giving your pet food and treats that include the allergen, wipe your pet’s coat and feet after being outside, and regularly groom your pet to maintain their skin and coat integrity. 

Hypo-sensitization (allergen-specific immunotherapy)

This is the gold standard of medical treatment for some types of allergies. While there is no known “cure” for allergies, this treatment is tailored to each pet, and can effectively manage allergies by strengthening the pet’s immune system and stopping it from reacting to environmental allergens.

Manage your pet’s allergy signs to help them avoid chronic discomfort and secondary infections that can significantly reduce your pet’s quality of life. If your pet is showing allergy signs, seek prompt, personalized care with our Dr. Treat team to neutralize your pet’s allergy threats.

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Dr Treat

A veterinary practice that is reimagining the approach to the health and wellbeing of companion animals.

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