Oh, spring—the flowers are blooming, the grass is getting greener, the birds are chirping, and the pets are itching. Yep, our four-legged friends are as susceptible to allergies as people, and an allergic pet feels as crummy as someone sniffing and sneezing through the changing seasons. Pets and people react to many of the same allergens, but unlike people, pet allergies are more commonly manifested as skin problems rather than itchy, watery eyes and respiratory issues. So, how can we avoid the allergens that make our pets uncomfortable? We may not be able to completely reduce our pet’s exposure, but we can learn where most allergens lurk, the signs of a pet’s allergic reaction, and how to relieve their suffering. Our team at Town and Country Pet Animal Hospital is here with the scoop on pet allergies. 

What are pet allergies?

Allergies are sensitivities to substances found in our everyday environment. An allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance (i.e., allergen) as harmful, and overreacts, releasing histamine that can cause inflammation, swelling, and itching. Pets can suffer from seasonal, environmental, and food allergies, as well as flea bite allergic reactions.

Are some pets more susceptible to allergies?

All pets can suffer from allergies, but some breeds are genetically predisposed to developing allergic reactions (i.e., atopy). Such breeds include:

  • Bulldogs
  • Shar-peis
  • Retrievers
  • Terriers
  • Shih tzus
  • Lhasa apsos

Pets with atopic dermatitis typically begin to show signs between 1 and 3 years of age. Signs include rubbing, licking, biting, and scratching at their feet, flank, ears, and armpits, causing patchy hair loss, and reddening and thickening of the skin.

What are pet environmental allergens indoors and outdoors?

Environmental allergies are commonly caused when pets inhale air particles that trigger an allergic reaction. Many allergens are found indoors, including:

  • Dust — Household dust can trigger sneezing, congestion, and itchy eyes in your pet. 
  • Mold — Mold on fallen leaves can release spores, which can enter your home and trigger allergic reactions in pets.

Fortunately, you can minimize allergens in your home by:

  • Cleaning your pet’s bed frequently
  • Vacuuming pillows, carpets, and bedding regularly
  • Disinfecting hard surfaces
  • Changing furnace filters monthly
  • Avoiding wool blankets 
  • Using an air purifier 

If you suspect your pet is having an allergic reaction to something in your home, consider new products such as laundry detergent, air fresheners, or cleaning products. You can easily identify the offending product by a trial of elimination. 

Outdoor environmental allergens are all around us and can trigger an allergic reaction in pets through inhalation or direct skin contact. These allergens are often seasonal, so you may notice your pet itching only during certain times of the year, but pets also can suffer from year-round allergies that worsen over time. Common outdoor environmental pet allergens include:

  • Pollen
  • Grass
  • Weeds
  • Mold 
  • Fungi 

What are food allergies in pets?

True food allergies are rare in pets, who are more likely to be allergic to a type of protein in the food, most often beef, chicken, dairy products, or wheat. Food allergies may cause:

  • Itching
  • Hair loss
  • Ear infections
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

Can pets be allergic to fleas?

Fleas, which can be found indoors and outside, are another common allergy trigger for pets, who react to the flea’s saliva when they bite. The intense reaction is called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) and a single bite can cause an extreme allergic response.

How are pet allergies diagnosed?

If you suspect your pet has an allergy, your veterinarian can determine the triggering allergen(s) and appropriate treatment, which may include an intradermal skin test that involves injecting a small amount of test allergens under your pet’s skin and identifying triggers by the reaction (e.g., redness, swelling, and hives) to the injection. Blood testing can also be used to determine allergen types. With food allergies, the pet can be placed on a totally new diet for six to eight weeks, and then the old ingredients added back gradually, until the triggering protein is identified, and removed completely from the pet’s diet. 

How are pet allergies treated?

Pet allergies cannot actually be cured, but proper management can keep your pet more comfortable, and may include:

  • Skin or allergy diets 
  • Shampoos and other topical treatments 
  • Flea prevention
  • Antihistamines 
  • Corticosteroids 
  • Immunotherapy
  • Supplements

Our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital PC knows the frustration of allergies for humans and pets, and how you feel helpless watching your pet suffer. Schedule an appointment with our team if your pet shows allergy signs, and let us help you keep them comfortable this allergy season.