Allergies in Pets

by Roy T Faulkner DVM, MS

It’s not easy for pet owners to know that their pet cat or dogs has an allergy, because pets exhibit different reactions to the things that we are allergic to. For instance – a pet may have a different allergic reaction to grass pollen. While grass pollen typically causes sneezing in humans, in pet dogs, it causes itching in the feet. Allergies in pets has become one of the most common problems seen by veterinarians and even has become a specialty.

 

 

Allergies in pets have to be diagnosed as early as possible and treated quickly, if not, our pet cats and dogs may suffer for their entire lives. The symptoms get worse as our pets get older. That’s why allergies in pets should be taken seriously.

Here, we offer a comprehensive take on allergies in pets. We discuss the causes and symptoms of allergies, the various diagnostic tests used and the treatments available. Read on!

Causes of Allergies in Pets

Allergies in cats and dogs are a result of the immune system of these pets reacting excessively to something which isn’t much of a threat. The immune systems of pets may overreact to peanuts, pollen or laundry detergent.

The most common cause of allergies in pets is fleas. The material that causes allergic reactions in pets is called an antigen – which is a protein. Antigen may be described as Allergen, when it is air borne.

Antigens are grouped into 3 categories; all allergies in pets are caused by materials belonging to one or more of these categories. Allergies in pets are caused by…

  • What a pet eats – foods, preservatives, additives, food storage mites, dyes etc. An overwhelming majority of dog food allergies, almost 66%, and 90% of cat food allergies are caused by beef, dairy, and wheat.
  • What a pet breathes – pollens, cigarette smoke, perfumes cat dander, particles released carpets, decks subjected to preservatives etc. Inhaled pet allergies cause itchy, not sneezing, and is referred to as Atopy.

  • What a pet’s skin comes into contact with – fleas, dust mites, soaps, wool etc. Allergies in pets are responsible for causing skin disease in them. Flea allergy is the most common cause.

What’s also clear is that the greater the exposure your pets have to these antigens, more intense is the allergy.

Symptoms of Allergies in Pets

Itching dog with pet allergy

Itching is the most common symptom seen in pets that have an allergy.

The most common symptoms of allergies in pets are:

  • Itching
  • Vomiting
  • Ear infections
  • Scratching
  • Skin infections
  • Scooting
  • Odor
  • Face rubs
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive bowel movements
  • Burping
  • Flatulence

The most common clinical signs of allergies in pets are itching and scratching. Foul odor, skin infections, surface bumps, diarrhea, ear infections and scooting are also common signs that indicate that your pet cat or dog has an allergy.

Diagnosis of Allergies in Pets

 

 

There are several laboratory tests that are used in the diagnosis of pet allergies. These tests may involve an examination of the serum, WBC count and fluid in the blood and identifying parasitic infection, if any.

The Following Diagnostic Tests Are Used to Diagnose Allergies in Dogs and Cats

RAST Pet Allergy Skin Test

The RAST or Radioallergosorbent Serum Test examines a pet’s reaction to certain antigens such as fleas, pollens and mites. While effective in a majority of cases, the RAST test is not always the best indicator because of the absence of a correlation between what a pet’s blood reacts to and what are the symptoms the pet exhibits.

Intradermal Skin Tests

Intradermal skin tests are pet diagnostic tests, that involve the injection of the antigens that a pet is allergic to injected into a shaved area of its skin. The main goal of this test is to identify what your pet cat or dog should stay away from. If the injection leads to a higher histamine release and increased blood flow, noticed by the formation of a red, puffy skin around the injection point – then it’s easy to identify the affecting antigen.

Food Allergy Elimination Trial

Food allergy elimination trials require the pets to be given a specific diet, such as Hill’s Z/D diet and finding out after a few weeks how the pet tolerates this food. Causes of food allergies are identified this way. If the tests are still found inconclusive, more foods are added to the pet’s diet. What’s important to note here is that, during a Food allergy elimination trial, a pet can have nothing else whatsoever. It cannot have any treats, chewies, bones or any medication. So you should be very cautious about what your pet cat or dog is up to during the time of this test and ensures that it eats nothing different from what’s in the special diet.

Pets with Allergies – The Treatments

There are no definite cures or treatments for allergies in dogs and cats. What can be done is to alleviate the symptoms, prevent the causes of the allergies and offer certain remedies. We discuss some of the treatments recommended by veterinarians for pets suffering from allergies.

Natural Remedies

Let’s have a look at a couple of natural remedies recommended by vets for allergies in pets. These remedies have zero side effects and are 100% safe.

Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are really effective at reducing the pet’s immune system’s inclination to overreact. It takes time to work though, around a month or so, as the fatty acids have to be incorporated into the cells in the body. But Omega 3 fatty acids work on most occasions and should be given to a pet cat or dog as a part of its regular diet to prevent allergic attacks.

Yucca

Yucca has excellent and completely natural anti-inflammatory powers and helps the pet’s immune system to get stronger. It helps to mitigate the effects of an allergy without causing any side effects.

Medications Given to Pets With Allergies

Medicated Shampoos and Conditioners

Shampoos and conditioners are known to ease allergy symptoms. For example, Relief Shampoo, HyLyt Essential Fatty Acid Shampoo and Excel Hydrocortisone Shampoo provide soothing itch relief.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines such as Benadryl, are recommended by veterinarians anytime a pet develops allergy symptoms. They are not always effective, but they are the initial medications that are always given for allergies in pet cats and dogs. Common antihistamines include Hydroxyzine HCl (Rx), Diphenhydramine (or Generic Benadryl) and Chlorpheniramine 4mg.

Steroids

Steroids are known to clamp down on allergies in pets, but after an excellent initial impact, the efficacy of steroids gradually diminishes. So a steroid injection could stave off allergies in pets for a period of 4 to 6 weeks, after that, any further steroid injections would diminish in effectiveness.
Steroids shouldn’t be administered in excess as that might cause aggression, irritation, increases bladder flow, thinning of the skin, vomiting, diarrhea and so on, in pets. They can be taken orally or injected directly into the blood stream.

Immune-Modulators

Immune modulators such as Cyclosporine (Modified) Generic or Atopica work on the WBC in the blood, preventing them from stimulating histamine release. Immune modulators are known to have side effects such as upset stomachs, but are preferred to steroids.

Immune-Modulating Allergy Shots

This technique involves administering a series of immune modulating allergy shots injections into the pet. But the immune modulating allergy shots treatment should be done only by experienced veterinarians as, if not done well, it could cause shock and anaphylaxis in your pet cat or dog.

What You Should Do At Home When Your Pet has an Allergy

There is a lot you can do at home to ensure that your pet cat or dog remains protected from allergens such as pollens, grasses, mites and molds. First, you should only feed the pet the freshest dry kibble, and always use glass or stainless steel bowls for the feeding, rather than plastic bowls. All pet food should be kept frozen.

You should use air filters at home, keep the windows close at all times. It’s important to have the home vacuumed regularly and to dust the furniture with a wet cloth. Carpets should be cleaned regularly – hire a professional carpet cleaning service for this purpose.

Beddings have to be washed with hot water, and take care to use only a perfume free detergent. Pets should not be allowed into lawns while you’re mowing and should be kept indoors when the air is filled with pollen. Pets should not be let anywhere close to treated wood decks and cedar chips shouldn’t be allowed in pet beds.