Can’t wait to open the windows and welcome fresh air into the house? Be aware that you may also let in pollens, molds and other airborne allergens. For people with allergies, this can lead to sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose. Signs of pet allergies, on the other hand, tend to appear on the skin. Allergic pets can be miserable: itching, scratching and even chewing their paws raw.
How can you bring your itchy pet relief? In most cases, it helps to eliminate the allergen that’s causing the problem. The trouble is, it can be difficult to determine what, exactly, is behind the itch. Could it be parasites? Is food the culprit? Maybe it’s pollen? Worse yet, could it be a combination of these things?
Your veterinarian can help you get to the bottom of your pet’s itch, and even prescribe some itch relief while working up your pet’s case. This workup may include any or all of the following steps.
Check for External Parasites and Infections
As you can imagine, fleas and mites crawling on the skin can cause serious itching in pets. But that itch can throttle up to new levels if the pet is allergic to flea saliva. Even a single bite from a flea may send pets with flea allergies into sudden fits of scratching. You can use a flea comb to search for evidence of fleas or even flea dirt (flea feces), which look like black pepper on the skin. Because flea dirt contains digested blood, it will generally turn a wet paper towel red.
But some pets that are exceptionally good bathers, such as cats, may destroy any evidence of fleas. In these cases, your veterinarian may recommend a trial with a flea control product to see if the itching subsides.
Because mites are usually microscopic, your veterinarian can perform a skin scrape and look for evidence of mites under the microscope. Bacteria and yeast, other causes of itching, may also be found on a skin scrape or tape prep. Luckily, there are usually effective treatments for all of these problems.
A Food Trial May Help
Pets can also be allergic to ingredients in their food such as proteins or preservatives. Although food allergies tend to be year-round, rather than seasonal, they can certainly contribute to your pet’s itchiness in a season when itchiness is at its peak. Pets with food allergies may also show gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting or diarrhea, but this is less common than skin issues.
Making a gradual transition to a limited-ingredient diet such as Taste of the Wild PREY may help. With no more than four key ingredients, this diet contains fewer potential allergens to provoke your pet’s allergies.
How do you know if your pet has a food allergy? Signs will improve during the eight to 12 weeks of the food trial but return when the pet is fed the previous diet. If the itching didn’t resolve during the food trial, your veterinarian may recommend a hydrolyzed diet, in which proteins are broken down into pieces too small to be recognized by the pet’s immune system.
What If It Really Is Pollen?
Some pets are actually allergic to environmental allergens like grass, pollens or molds, some of which are seasonal. Typically, a veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist may perform a skin test, like those done in people, to determine the exact cause of the pet’s environmental allergies. Injections can then be created to help your pet overcome these allergies.
In other cases, environmental allergies may be a “diagnosis of exclusion” if all other causes of allergies have been ruled out. In this case, your veterinarian will most likely recommend medications and possibly regular bathing with a gentle shampoo to help relieve the itch and remove allergens trapped in the coat.
Once you’ve resolved the itch, you and your pet can go outdoors and make the most of all of what spring has to offer.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.