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Pet Allergies: How to Tell and What to do

Pet allergies: cat scratching it's ear.

Just like humans, our furry friends can also have allergies. Their allergic response can range from irritating and itchy to severe and dangerous. An allergy is the immune system’s hypersensitivity to a substance known as an allergen. Exposure to an allergen sensitizes the immune system and a subsequent exposure causes an over-reaction. Usually, the immune system protects a pet against infection and disease, however, when it comes to allergies, it can actually cause harm to the body.

Pet Allergies to be Aware of

There are a few different types of pet allergies, but the most common are flea allergies, environmental allergies, and food allergies. These allergies pose challenges for pets and their owners, especially because the symptoms can overlap. Below are more details about each allergy type, symptoms, and treatment options.

Flea Allergies

Adult fleas must bite an animal to obtain a blood meal to reproduce. Typically, fleas only remain on the pet while they’re feeding. This is why it’s not easy to spot live fleas on your pet unless there is an infestation. The antigens or proteins in flea saliva cause an itchy reaction on sensitive pets. This can cause Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD). A flea allergy can begin at any age, although most cases will appear between two to five years old.

Symptoms: A pet with FAD will scratch and bite itself, usually in the tail-base region. This often causes their skin to become red, scabbed, and inflamed. They may also remove large amounts of hair and develop a secondary bacterial infection in the areas of broken skin.

Treatment: Because it takes only one or two flea bites to start an allergic reaction, some form of flea control must be used. This can be difficult considering the short life cycle of fleas, so regular doses of treatment on a timely basis is necessary. Topical flea treatments are applied to small areas of the body where your pet is unable to lick it off. Your vet will recommend methods of flea prevention or prescribe medications to block the acute allergic reaction, prevent discomfort, and recurrence of symptoms.

Additionally, you should vacuum all surfaces and wash any bedding your pet sleeps on to get rid of fleas after a reaction. Keeping these areas clean can help to prevent the return of fleas.

Inhalant Environmental Allergy (Atopy)

Atopy is the second most common type of pet allergy. It occurs when the pet’s immune system overreacts to an inhaled or airborne allergen. These allergens could be tree pollens, weed pollens, grass pollens, mildew, house dust mites, and molds. Most of these allergies occur seasonally, however, others can occur year-round.

Symptoms: Most pets that have atopy start showing signs between the ages of one to three. Instead of the runny, swollen nose, and sneezing that humans with airborne allergies experience, inhalant allergy in pets manifests with itchy skin (pruritus). Affected pets will lick, chew, bite, or scratch all over, especially on their face and feet. The pet may also scratch and rub around the axillae (armpits), eyes and ears, the groin, or thighs. Hair loss, redness, bumps on the skin, and chronic ear infection may also occur.

Treatment: The only way to diagnose inhalant allergy and determine the exact allergen(s) bothering the pet is to perform skin and blood testing. Treatment involves reducing exposure to allergens and anti-inflammatory therapy, shampoo therapy, hyposensitization or desensitization therapy, fatty acid supplements, or allergy shots. Your vet will be able to recommend the best treatment for your pet.

Food Allergies

True food allergies are different from food sensitivity or food intolerance. Food sensitivity is the result of poor digestion and does not involve an immune response. A food allergy can develop to almost any protein or carbohydrate in food. The most common allergens in pets are wheat, beef, dairy, chicken, eggs, lamb, pork, fish, and soy. Food allergies in pets can develop at any age and some breeds have genetic allergies.

Symptoms: If your pet has a food allergy, he/she will scratch, lick, and bite their ear, rear end, stomach, or paw. This can cause broken skin, infection, or hair loss. You may also notice chronic ear or paw infection, hives, chronic gas, and diarrhea.

Treatment: Food allergies typically don’t respond well to medical treatments. What’s important is identifying and eliminating the offending component(s) of the pet’s diet. The most accurate way of diagnosing food allergies is with an “elimination trial.” Your vet will recommend a special diet of foods that your pet has not been regularly exposed to for 4-12 weeks. This diet will remove all the current foods your pet is eating. Your vet will then advise you on how to proceed if there’s a positive reaction to the new diet.

Contact Us

By recognizing the signs of allergies and working with a veterinarian at Naples Coast Animal Hospital for diagnosis and treatment, your pet can live a happy and healthy life. If your pet is showing signs of discomfort and scratching, contact us at (239) 500-0105 to book an appointment today.