They might be itchy. They might be scratchy. They might be runny or even a little wheezy. If your pet is any of these, they might be suffering from allergies. But, as with any pet ailment, it’s not always easy to determine what they’re allergic to, or even if there’s an allergy!
Types and Causes of Allergies In Pets
Pet allergies and cat and dog allergy symptoms come in many forms.
If you suspect your dog or cat has an allergy, the first thing to do is determine what kind of allergy you might be dealing with. Your veterinarian will likely do the heavy lifting here, but it helps you as a pet parent to have a working knowledge of the different types of pet allergies, allergic reactions and maybe a little understanding of the immune system.
Food Allergies in Pets
Pet allergies to food might require allergy testing.
Food allergies are actually somewhat rare and are often confused with food sensitivities or intolerances. Allergy or intolerance is an important distinction when determining food allergies in your pet. A true allergy is when something, like food, triggers an immune response from your pet’s body. This response can manifest as anything from a simple rash to a dangerous situation where your pet has trouble breathing. An intolerance, on the other paw, is more of a digestive problem, where your pet has trouble (for any number of reasons) digesting a certain food. The problem is that an intolerance can look on the outside an awful lot like a food allergy, and usually your vet has to dig deeper to determine the actual cause of your pet allergy.
The immune response your pet’s body uses to fight an actual food allergy can appear superficially as simple itchiness, skin blotches, swelling or bald patches of fur. However, pet food allergies can also cause severe digestive problems like diarrhea, vomiting or abdominal pain.
Food allergies are no joke. Best-case scenario is that your pet will be miserable, while on the other end of the spectrum, pet allergies can result in the death of your pet. If you suspect a food allergy, you should consult with your vet immediately.
Environmental Allergies in Pets
Dog allergies can come from anywhere.
“Seasonal allergies” is a phrase that is regularly thrown around, and it’s somewhat misleading. If your pet is allergic to something, they’re allergic to it all year round, and if it’s in their environment, it’s likely causing discomfort or worse. Environmental allergies are the second-most common cause of allergic skin disease in dogs, behind flea allergy dermatitis, which we’ll discuss later.
Pollen from trees, grasses and weeds is the frontrunner for most common environmental allergen. In the spring, tree pollen might be the main cause of your pet’s allergy symptoms. Once summer hits, grass pollen becomes the enemy, and that can cause symptoms until the snow covers it all up! As fall falls, ragweed, sagebrush and wormwood release weed pollen. Though it’s common to say “pollen allergy,” there are many different types of pollen. And your pet can be allergic to more than one.
While pollen is somewhat seasonal depending on where you live, other environmental allergies can be present all year long. Dust, dust mites, mold spores and dander may cause skin or sinus issues in your pet. But how do you determine where those allergies are actually coming from?
Discovering Where Those Allergies Spring from Can Be Tricky!
Discovering where those cat and dog allergies and allergy symptoms come from isn’t easy!
Your pets are always in contact with pollens, molds and other airborne allergens. For people with allergies, this can lead to sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose. But if you notice an itchy, splotchy, red-pawed pet, it doesn’t matter the season because you need to get to the bottom of their discomfort now. The trouble is, it can be difficult to determine what, exactly, is behind the symptoms. Could it be parasites? Is food the culprit? Maybe it’s pollen? Worse yet, could it be a combination of these things?
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
A single flea can wreak havoc on your pet’s immune system.
The mere presence of fleas can make a dog or cat itchy, but for pets who are allergic to fleas, it’s even worse: a single bite can lead to a severe reaction called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). It’s one of the pet allergies to avoid!
Of all the allergies dogs and cats can have, flea allergies are among the most common. In this case, pets are sensitive to the flea saliva. And they don’t have to be infested with fleas to have a reaction. A single flea can cause hordes of misery within the immune system.
To relieve the itch, pets will scratch, lick, bite and even partake in some “corn cob” nibbling in rows on their skin. In dogs, skin reactions are often seen along the lower back, tail base, thighs, and lower abdomen. Cats typically focus on the lower back, tail, head and neck. Some pets are so miserable, they’ll literally scratch or lick themselves bald in these areas. What is a pet owner to do?
Everything You Need to Know About Flea Protection
Pet allergies can come in the tiniest of packages.
In the U.S. alone, there are 300 different types of fleas. Since fleas are the most common allergy for pets, it’s easy to see why fleas are ranked as one of the most common pet allergies for dogs and cats.
The common fleas that dogs, cats and humans typically find sucking their blood belong to the order Siphonaptera, aptly named for its siphon-like mouth. Different species of fleas may have a particular host that they prefer, but when push comes to shove, most fleas will latch on to any animal that’s available — even you!
Here’s how to recognize the signs of fleas and flea allergies in your pet and, more importantly, fight the flea problem and prevent the spread of fleas.
A Limited Ingredient Diet May Help Bring Allergy Relief
Pet allergy symptoms might be alleviated with a limited-ingredient diet.
Although it can seem like your pet’s stomach is invincible, certain foods may not agree with your dog or cat. In fact, adverse food reactions can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, gurgling tummies and — the bane of dog owners everywhere — excess gas. Or your pet may experience red, itchy skin and/or chronic ear infections.
Your veterinarian can help rule out parasites, infections and other possible causes and determine if your pet’s food really might be the problem. The best way to diagnose — and eventually treat — a food allergy or intolerance is to perform a diet trial for 6 to 12 weeks. Limited ingredient diets for dogs and cats contain four key ingredients or less — so there are fewer components to potentially irritate your pet’s digestive tract. Each diet contains only a single animal protein source, such as pasture-raised Angus beef, cage-free turkey or trout raised in spring-fed waters.
A Pet Allergy Isn’t the End of the World
Dog allergies or pet allergies in general can be difficult to diagnose. Allergy symptoms, allergic reactions, allergy testing, seasonal allergies, allergy shots: It’s enough for a pet owner to want to seal your pet up in a bubble! But with a little investigation and maybe a lot of help from your veterinarian, that itchy skin and those allergic reactions can be things of the past!
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.