Quick Reference Guide to Identifying and Combating Pet Allergies

Sarah Sypniewski

Allergies in Pets

Pet allergies can be some of the most confounding conditions to deal with. They’re widespread, they affect different body parts in different ways, and there are a truckload of treatment options.

There are four main allergy categories: airborne, flea dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and food. Here in our house, we have dealt with all but the flea allergies (thanks to our regular prevention regimen). There’s a lot of good information out there, but when you’re going through it with your pet, it can be difficult to find resources that zero in on what you need in a manageable way.

With that in mind, here’s a quick reference guide to pet allergies. As always, make sure you consult your vet if your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms.

Airborne Allergies

These occur when your pet inhales particles that he’s allergic to.

Agents: pollen, dust mites, and mold
Symptoms: sneezing, pawing at or rubbing face on floor or furniture, chewing/biting/licking skin, recurring ear infections

Notes: Airborne allergies are mostly seasonal.

Flea Dermatitis

This occurs when your pet has a reaction to a flea bite. You can pretty easily prevent this by giving him regular flea prevention.

Agents: flea bites
Symptoms: Same as airborne, but can become more severe, resulting in hives and anaphylaxis.

Notes: More common in dogs and cats that have outdoor access than indoor cats. If you give your pet a topical flea prevention treatment and you still have flea problems, ask your vet about prescribing an oral medication.

Contact Dermatitis

This occurs when your pet touches something that he’s allergic to.

Agents: household cleaners, detergents, grass, plastic
Symptoms: appearance of red bumps/irritation on points of contact (like paws, stomach, and tail), scratching/chewing/licking, hair loss, hot spots

Food Allergies

These kick in when your pet ingests something he’s allergic to.

Agents: Can be anything, but the most allergenic foods are protein sources like beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs. Soy, corn, and wheat are also common food allergens.
Symptoms: GI upset indicated by audible stomach gurgles, vomiting, and diarrhea. May also cause respiratory issues.

Notes: Pets aren’t born with food allergies; they get them after eating a certain food for awhile. The most thorough way to diagnose a food allergy is to do a diet trial or put your pet onto hypoallergenic food so you can figure out what might be the culprit. Your vet can help you with this.

Treatments

There are many ways to tackle allergies. Depending on the type of allergy, the allergen, and the pet, you might have to try a few things (or a combination of things) to find the right treatment. Remember to enlist the guidance of your vet when commencing this battle. I’ll start with the easier strategies and work up to the more serious treatments.

Brushing: Brushing your pet regularly can help keep allergens from settling on his fur and skin.

Paw wiping: If your pet goes to town on his paws after being outside, simply wiping his paws off with a towel or prescription-medicated pads from your vet can do a lot to get rid of allergens. Do this every time he comes inside, and you might see a big difference.

High quality food: Work with your vet, nutritionist, or local independent pet food provider to find a food that is high-quality and made with ingredients that don’t cause allergic reactions.

Nutraceuticals/Supplements: Adding sources of Vitamin C, Omegas, Vitamin A, Selenium, Zinc, and other power-packed nutrients to your pet’s food (and sometimes water) can help address the root cause of all kinds of allergies.

Switching food/water bowls: This is a strategy that is more commonly used with cats versus dogs. If you notice your pet getting acne or irritation around his mouth area, it could be the bowls you’re using. Try switching to glass or ceramic and see what happens.

Air filters: To help combat airborne allergens, use an air filter or two in the house. You might even see a difference in yourself!

Antihistamines: Over the counter human meds (such as Benadryl) are safe to give your pet to help curb itching, but you must work with your vet on dosage. Be aware that antihistamines don’t address the allergy itself; they just ease the symptom to prevent your pet from giving himself an infection from scratching or biting.

Antibiotics: These are typically prescribed if the allergy has given rise to a bacterial or yeast infection.

Topical creams, ointments, and shampoos: These are prescribed to help heal visible hot spots, irritation, and infections that are a result of the allergy. There are different varieties that have different levels of medication.

Steroids: These are prescribed when the antihistamines don’t work. They are pretty powerful though, and can have some substantial side effects.

Allergy shots: These are expensive and intense, but a lot of pets benefit from them. They work a lot like human allergy shots. Ask your vet about them.

Have you dealt with pet allergies? If so, you know it can be so difficult to find the right combo of treatments. Share what works for your pet below!

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