Pet Allergies

For Many Animals, It’s a Life-Long Issue

Golden retriever

Those of us who suffer from allergies know what misery they can cause. Itchy eyes, runny nose, irritated skin or digestive upset can wreak havoc in our daily lives.

But did you know that pets can also develop allergies? In fact, many of the things that cause us to cough, sneeze or itch can also affect our pets.

Allergies Common Reason for Vet Visits

Pet allergies are a common problem. Atopy, when a pet’s skin becomes itchy due to an allergic reaction, was the second most common reason VPI Pet Insurance policyholders took their dogs to the veterinarian last year.

Pet allergies can also lead to many other health issues, such as an overproduction of wax in your pet’s ears, leading to ear infections — the No. 1 reason dog owners took their pets to the veterinarian last year.

Secondary infections in cats and dogs often occur from excessive scratching, licking and biting on itchy skin.

Does Your Pet Have Allergies?

Common signs that your pet may be suffering from allergies include:

  • Chewing on paws or other reachable body parts.
  • Scratching excessively.
  • Rubbing his face on the carpet.
  • Ear infections that keep coming back.
  • Hair loss.
  • His skin is mutilated or you notice pyoderma or “hot spots” which occur when your pet licks, bites or scratches his skin until it becomes raw and inflamed.

It could be allergies — or it could be something else. Dr. Tina Swan, a VPI field veterinarian, emphasizes that it is crucial for your veterinarian to determine whether there are underlying conditions causing the symptoms of or contributing to an allergy.

Common Pet Allergens

Our pets can be allergic to the same things we are. This includes environmental allergens, food allergies and reactions to insect bites.

Some of the most common allergens for your pets include:

  • Grass, pollen and trees.
  • Flea bites.
  • Food and food additives and milk products.
  • Rubber, plastic, and fabrics.
  • Dust and dust mites.

Allergies may start out as seasonal — such as a reaction to pollen during the spring — but can get worse over time so that they may become year-round.

German shorthair

Diagnosis of Pet Allergies

Many pets will not develop allergies until they are between one and three years of age.  If your veterinarian suspects your pet has allergies, the first step could be trying to remove the possible allergen from his environment.

Allergies may start out as seasonal — such as a reaction to pollen during the spring — but can get worse over time so that they may become year-round.

Your veterinarian can also conduct allergy testing through blood work or a simple skin test, when a small amount of the suspected allergen is injected into the skin to see if there is a reaction.

As your pet ages, he may develop other allergies or his response to an allergen may worsen.

Treating Pet Allergies

Treatments depend on the cause, according to VPI field veterinarian Cori Gross. If it’s an allergy to fleabites, then your veterinarian will likely recommend a topical flea preventative year-round. You will also need to treat the environment, making sure your home and yard are flea-free.

For atopy, or skin irritation, your pet may have allergy testing and develop desensitization through allergy shots. Oral treatments, such as cyclosporine or steroids, may be used for severe cases.

Milder cases may be treated with antihistamines, essential fatty acid supplements and special shampoos.

Food allergies can be helped through a hypoallergenic diet and by eliminating the offending food.

Cats with chin acne could be aggravated by contact with a plastic bowl. Always feed your cat from a metal or ceramic bowl.

There may not be any one cure to your pet’s allergies. They often need a combination of different therapies, as they can be allergic to more than one thing. And, your pet’s reaction to an allergen can cause other issues: bacteria can enter into raw areas or through broken skin.

“It’s very important to treat any secondary skin infections aggressively and for a long enough time period,” Dr. Swan says. “The diagnostics to rule out other problems and treatment adjustments can take time and patience.”

Some Dog Breeds Are More Prone to Allergies

Certain breeds of dogs tend to be predisposed to allergies. These include golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Shar-Peis, beagles, bulldogs and boxers. Not every dog in these breeds will develop allergies, but it is important to remain vigilant if your dog shows any allergy symptoms.

Cats do not seem to have a predisposition according to breed.

Rule of thumb: Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your pet has allergies and find the right treatment to put your four-legged companion out of itchy, scratchy misery.   


Read more about pet skin allergies and pet skin conditions.


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