Allergies are one of the most common chronic medical pet conditions, yet their appearance often takes pet owners by surprise, because rather than resembling our idea of allergies—sneezing, nasal congestion, and watery eyes—pet allergies only occasionally include respiratory signs. Instead, pet allergies are most often characterized by intense itching, irritated skin, or gastrointestinal issues.
Identifying possible pet allergies and then scheduling an appointment at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital is the first step in your pet’s journey to real relief. Check out these common questions about pet allergies, to determine if your pet’s scratching and licking are actually their immune system’s cry for help.
Question: What is an allergy in pets?
Answer: Your pet’s immune system provides natural protection from real and potential threats. However, allergic pets experience a hypersensitive immune response to ordinary substances (i.e., allergens) that they encounter through inhalation, ingestion, or physical contact.
A body exposed to an allergen reacts with an inflammatory response that typically looks like irritation, redness, or swelling of the skin. Internally, chronic inflammation can lead to tissue thickening and irritation that results in digestive issues.
Q: How can I tell if my pet has allergies?
A: Visible signs can vary, based on your pet’s specific allergens, but common allergy signs may include:
- Intense scratching, biting, or licking of the skin or coat
- Hair loss
- Bumps, scabs, or crusting skin lesions
- Recurring skin or ear infections
- Unusual skin odor
- Sneezing or coughing
- Eye discharge
Skin irritations may be confined to one area (e.g., the feet, chest, or abdomen), or generalized.
Q: What are the most common pet allergies?
A: Dogs and cats can suffer from several allergy types, including:
- Insect bites — Pets can have an acute allergic reaction to bug bites, including bees and wasps. This usually involves facial swelling, and respiratory distress in severe cases. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a condition that causes intense itching and hair loss after a flea bite.
- Airborne (i.e., environmental) — Allergies to pollen, grasses, and weeds are seasonal, and appear during the spring and summer.
- Food — Allergic or sensitive pets typically react to the proteins—not grains—in their food. The most common food allergens in dogs include chicken, beef, soy, lamb, and dairy products. Cats may also be sensitive to fish.
- Contact — Direct contact with irritating materials or chemicals, such as topical flea preventives, plastic bowls, and grooming products, can trigger local allergic reactions.
- Medications — Medication allergies can cause facial swelling, hives, itching, vomiting, and diarrhea—these signs typically follow closely after the medicine or vaccine is administered.
Q: How can I prevent my pet from reacting to their environment?
A: Unfortunately, pet allergies cannot be prevented. Some breeds have a suspected genetic component, but most pet allergies arise gradually as the immune system is sensitized (i.e., repeatedly exposed) to the allergen. Because avoiding most airborne allergens is impossible, most pet allergies are addressed through targeted therapy and sign management.
Q: How are allergies diagnosed in pets?
A: At your pet’s appointment, our veterinary team will ask specific questions about your pet’s behavior at home, including when their allergy signs started, and whether your pet’s environment has changed. Your detailed answers—in addition to your pet’s physical examination—will provide the veterinarian with clues about your pet’s condition. If necessary, additional testing, including blood work, skin cytology or scraping, and imaging, may be recommended. In severe cases, you may be referred to a veterinary dermatologist for advanced diagnostics and treatment.
Q: Can my pet live with allergies?
A: Although allergies are incurable, a proper diagnosis and lifelong management can provide allergic pets with a great quality of life. Once your pet’s allergies are identified, your veterinarian can create a detailed treatment plan that will focus on:
- Eliminating or minimizing discomfort
- Treating secondary infections or inflammation
- Reducing allergen exposure
Q: Does my pet need to see a specialist?
A: If your pet has severe allergies or their clinical signs are unresponsive to treatment, we may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist. Dermatologists have access to advanced diagnostic testing, including skin allergy tests where your pet is inoculated with tiny amounts of common allergens and then evaluated for a reaction, and can design customized treatments for your pet’s unique needs.
Q: Can my pet receive allergy shots?
A: Allergy shots are custom-made and typically prescribed through a veterinary dermatologist. These shots are designed to gradually desensitize your pet to unavoidable allergens, such as grasses, dust, mold, and pollen.
Because other allergens, such as food ingredients and specific materials, can be successfully avoided, allergy shots are typically reserved for pets with severe airborne allergies.
Q: Are other treatment options available for pets with allergies?
A: Your pet’s treatment will be specific to their individual needs, and will likely involve a combination of therapies. Common treatment options include:
- Medication — Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and antifungals can calm the skin and heal infection. Allergy medications and antihistamines can block the signal that tells your pet to scratch.
- Topical treatment — Shampoos, sprays, and ointments can soothe the skin and restore its healthy barrier.
- Flea and tick prevention — Year-round preventives are essential for pets with FAD.
- Grooming — Routine grooming, including baths, brushing, ear cleaning, and wiping your pet down after being outside, can reduce airborne allergen exposure.
Your pet doesn’t have to live with the misery of allergies. Schedule an examination at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital, and let us start them on the road to relief.