For many people, beautiful spring weather means sun, fun, and Claritin-D — because annoying spring allergies can make even the most perfect day itchy and irritating. But did you know allergies affect animals, too? In fact, they’re allergic to the same things we are, and their symptoms are very similar to ours.
What are pet allergies?
We’ve all heard of allergies to things like trees, grass, pollen, fabric, mites, dust, and cleaning chemicals, which can cause both humans and pets to scratch and itch. But why do allergies affect us that way? Although our immune system is supposed to protect us, it mistakes non-threatening molecules like allergens as harmful. When allergens are touched, inhaled, or ingested, our immune system produces a protein that causes the release of various irritating chemicals (like histamines), resulting in an allergic reaction.
When it comes to pets, the main three categories of allergies are flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), food, and environmental.
Flea allergy dermatitis. FAD is very common and occurs as a result of the saliva from a flea.
Food allergy. Although they may not act like it, pets can dislike and be allergic to certain foods, especially chicken, beef, soy, grain, or milk.
Environmental allergy. Occurs when your pet is allergic to indoor and/or outdoor irritants like pollen, mold, weeds, or dust. It can be seasonal and irritate your pet only at certain times of the year or only when she’s outdoors (like pollen or weeds). Indoor irritants, like dust or furniture fabrics, can affect pets year-round.
Although pets usually develop allergies between the ages of one and three, allergies can also pop up later in your pet’s life, especially if he has been exposed to the same irritating allergen for a long time.
What are the symptoms of pet allergies?
How do you know if your pet has allergies? Because he will demonstrate symptoms. But because your pet cannot say, "I have allergies. That’s why I’m acting this way," it’s always important to take him to the vet if he is exhibiting any odd behavior, regardless of what you think may be causing it.
That being said, long, red lesions on his skin and sores and wounds from constant scratching and mutilation are pretty clear signs of discomfort and allergic reactions. If your pet is excessively grooming, scooting, itching, scratching, losing hair, or vomiting, he may have allergies. And if his ears are inflamed and swollen or if he’s exhibiting any respiratory problems, you should take him to your vet.
How do I treat my pet's allergies?
When it comes to treating your pet for any kind of illness, the smartest thing to do first is contact your vet. Next to you, she knows your pet the best and will be able to provide strong, sound advice on which course of treatment to use. What’s more, if you get your pet to the vet as soon as symptoms arise, you’ll be able to reduce her chances of contracting a bacterial or yeast infection. While you’re at the vet, talk to her about:
Allergy testing. To best treat your pet, your vet has to first know what she is allergic to. You may already know what she’s allergic to if, for example, she broke out in hives and scratched herself after eating a particular food or being exposed to a specific allergen. Or, more likely, you may have no clue and are trying to narrow it down. An allergy test can help with that and see which (if any) allergen your pet reacts to.
Process of elimination. If you’re nervous about allergy testing your pet, talk to your vet about eliminating items — like specific foods or ingredients — that you think your pet is allergic to until the culprit is identified. However, keep in mind that the process of elimination can be arduous on you and your pet (especially if the allergen is environmental) and can keep her uncomfortable and in pain longer than necessary.
Allergy vaccines and shots. Allergy vaccines don’t prevent allergies from being developed, but they can help reduce the symptoms and pain your pet will have to endure. They provide quality of life for your dog, especially if you diagnose the allergy early. And talk to your vet about immune-modulating allergy shots, which is like Scared Straight for pets. While controversial and risky, the procedure can help your pet grow immune to the allergen and help her no longer have allergic reactions.
Topicals. Medicated shampoos, conditioners, rinses, and hydrocortisone can all ease allergy symptoms and reduce discomfort.
Omega 3 fatty acids. Not only do fatty acids help keep your pet’s coat healthy and shiny, they help reduce and control the amount of histamine and other itchy chemicals that are released. Ask your vet about Super Pure Omega 3 Soft Chews or Super Pure Omega 3 Liquid.
Steroids. Steroids are effective for short-term relief, but they are not recommended for long-term use due to their side effects.
Antihistamines. Histamines are only one source of itchiness, but antihistamines are one of many medications that may be prescribed to offer relief.
How do you prevent pet allergies?
Although any pet — regardless of type or breed — can contract an allergy at any age, there are ways to help reduce your pet’s chances of getting one:
Keep a clean house.
Keep a clean pet.
Use cotton instead of wool.
Use stainless steel bowls instead of plastic.
Avoid the allergen (if you can).
Monitor allergy forecast and pollen counts.
Maintain monthly flea and tick treatment.
Change her diet if food allergy arises.
Have plenty of water available at all times.
Although allergies can be annoying, they are rarely fatal, especially if you maintain regular vet visits. Contact your vet or pet dermatologist if your pet starts exhibiting any symptoms. By keeping an eye on your pet both indoors and outdoors and watching what she eats and where she plays, you’ll be able to keep her happy, healthy and comfortable this spring and summer.
Image: Krista Mangulsone