Unlike humans who most commonly suffer allergies as respiratory issues, dogs and cats usually become itchy instead. Allergies can cause hair loss, red skin, scabs and open sores (more commonly known as “hot spots”), and a great deal of discomfort for our pets.
Types of Allergies in Dogs and Cats
There are three commonly seen types of allergies in dogs and cats.
- Flea allergies are by far the most common type of allergy seen in both dogs and cats. Allergic pets develop a sensitivity to a substance in the fleas saliva that causes a sometimes intense reaction. It takes only one flea bite to cause a flea allergy to flare.
- Atopy is an allergy to something in your pet’s environment. This may be some type of grass, pollen or other plant life that is blooming. It may be an allergy to dust mites or almost any other substance.
- Your pet may be allergic to food as well. Normally, there is a specific ingredient or ingredients within the food to which your pet has a sensitivity. Though corn often gets blamed for allergies, meat, poultry and chicken are actually more common causes of food allergies.
Diagnosing Allergies in Pets
Skin problems in pets can be difficult to diagnose because different types of skin issues, including allergies, tend to affect your pet in a very similar way. In other words, most skin problems look alike.
Your pet’s history can be helpful in beginning to diagnose the type of allergy.
- Atopy tends to occur seasonally, most commonly in the warmer months.
- Flea allergies can occur any time fleas are present but are also most common in warmer months. Spring and fall are common times for flea allergies to become noticeable.
- Food allergies tend to cause year-round problems and are very rarely seasonal in nature.
Treating Dog and Cat Allergies
Ultimately, you may need your veterinarian’s help to diagnose and treat your pet’s allergic condition. However, there are a few things you can do at home to help your pet.
- Be sure you are using an effective means of flea control. Even if you don’t see fleas on your pet, flea allergy cannot be ruled out as a cause of skin issues. Remember it only takes one flea bite to cause a reaction for some pets. An effective flea control program can help rule out fleas as the cause of the reaction and can also prevent fleas from making your pet’s condition worse.
- Frequent bathing helps remove allergens (allergy-causing materials) from your pet’s hair coat. Pets can be bathed as often as once or twice weekly with a mild medicated shampoo. An oatmeal and/or aloe based shampoo is usually a good choice.
- Use a Pet Wipe or wet cloth to wipe your pet’s feet clean when your pet returns inside from an outdoor excursion.
- In some cases, special hypo-allergenic prescription diets may be necessary to control food allergies. However, you can try a food that contains ingredients, particularly a protein source, that your pet has never eaten before. If your pet suffers from a food allergy, treats and snacks containing the offending food ingredient may also cause problems for your pet.
If these suggestions are not sufficient to make your pet comfortable and itch-free, consult your veterinarian for further advice, diagnostics and treatment of your pet’s skin condition. Frequently, constant itching traumatizes the skin and causes secondary skin infections which may need to be treated with antibiotics or other medications. In the case of atopy, skin and/or blood tests are available to help determine the source of the allergy and will help plan a course of “allergy shots” (immunotherapy) if necessary for your pet.