Allergies! One of the most frustrating conditions to manage in people, is also one of the most frustrating things to manage in pets. While allergies in humans typically manifest itself as runny noses, non-stop sneezing, watery eyes, or even a swollen face, allergies in pets most often present as extremely itchy skin, paws, and ears. Today, we’re going to talk about itchy skin in our pets, potential allergies, or other issues that can be causing it.
While all pets itch occasionally, sometimes it can be severe enough to lead to hair loss, redness of the underlying skin, bad odor, open sores, and infections. When this occurs, oftentimes it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition, be it skin parasites, bacterial or fungal infections, or allergies.
What is an Allergy and What is it Caused by?
While it is hard to determine the exact combination of factors in causing allergies in pets, genetics do play a big role and allergies are oftentimes inherited, as allergies are quite common in dogs of all breeds and backgrounds. To put it simply, an allergy is an overreaction or hypersensitivity of the immune system to an otherwise normally harmless substance that we call an allergen. Most allergens that our pets are affected by are proteins from plants, insects, foods, or other animals. In these instances, the hyperactive immune system can actually cause harm to the body by releasing potent chemicals in the blood stream such as histamines. These chemicals cause local inflammation that are associated with the various signs of an allergy, such as swelling, itching, and redness.
What are Signs of Allergies in Pets?
In our pets, the most common signs of allergies in pets are associated with itching of the skin. Common areas of itching and irritation include the ears, the paws, the inner thighs and arms, and along the back. In some cases, these signs can include coughing, wheezing, discharge from the eyes or nose, or even vomiting and diarrhea. all depending on what they are allergic to, and how they are exposed.
What are the Most Common Types of Allergies in Pets?
When it comes to specific allergens, the most common types of allergies in pets include flea allergies, food allergies, and environmental (dust, pollen, etc) allergies.
Is there a Cure for my Allergies in Pets?
Unfortunately, just as in people, there is no cure for allergies in pets. However, there are a number of different ways to treat and decrease the clinical signs and subsequent diseases related to allergies. If the allergy is mild, avoiding the allergens that are causing these reactions may be all that is needed to manage the disease. If the allergic reaction is more severe, your veterinarian may prescribe medications such as steroids, antibiotics, antihistamines, skin and coat support supplements, medicated shampoos and conditioners, or a special food to control the itching issues and stop potential secondary infections. I often recommend immunotherapy injections (cytopoint) every 2 months for pets with chronic, uncontrollable allergies to help pets tolerate future exposure to the allergens, as infections often occur secondary to pets with chronic, uncontrolled allergies and prolonged use of certain medications can sometimes produce unwanted side effects long term. The goal of treatment for allergies in pets, just like with people, is to control the uncomfortable symptoms, stop secondary infections, and keep your pet happy and healthy, for as long as possible. Keeping your pet with allergies comfortable and as itch free as possible comes down to finding the perfect regimen with your veterinarians and pet care at home with supplements and shampoos. Checkout Wellnergy Pets Skin and Coat supplements to help manage your pets below:
We will discuss how to recognize, diagnose, and help treat each of these specific common allergies in detail later this week as part of our allergy series during this month as May is Allergy Awareness Month.
Below, you can find some answers to a few more Frequently Asked Questions about allergies!
Q: Is scratching normal in pets?
A: Occasional scratching is natural in pets however excessive scratching is not. If your pet is scratching all day or all night, or enough that you’re seeing red, irritated skin or hair loss, please make an appointment with your local veterinarian.
Q: My dog is starting to itch more recently, it must be the food, right?
A: Despite common belief, food allergies in pets are not as common a cause for allergies and itching in your pet as flea or environmental allergies. Although possible, the most likely cause of your pet’s skin condition may be something outside of its diet. Please bring your pet into your local veterinarian if excessive itching is suddenly seen.
Q: My dog is starting to itch more recently, it’s just fleas, right?
A: While fleas and their bites can cause mild nuisance to a pet’s life, a flea bite allergy is a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva itself. This causes an intense itch response (especially at the base of the tail, middle of the back and on the abdomen), that often times results in hair thinning, irritated skin, and even local skin infection/sores called ‘hotspots’.
Q: Will Antibiotics help with allergies in pets?
A: While antibiotics can be part of a recommended treatment plan to control your pet’s allergies and itching, it is not always needed or recommended. Your veterinarian will assess the severity of your pet's allergies before prescribing out antibiotics for your pet.
Q: What are common breeds associated with allergies?
A: Because there is a genetic component in the development of allergies, it is understandable that some breeds unfortunately, are more prone to allergies than others. Current research shows French Bulldogs, West Highland Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Pit Bulls, Chihuahuas, and Boxers as the breeds most commonly affected by allergies.
Q: Will a grain free or gluten free diet fix allergies in pets?
A: The most common food allergies in pets are protein based, usually the animal protein, in the food they eat. However, some pets on occasion can be diagnosed with a grain allergy through a long series of food trials, which is the only way to diagnose food allergies in pets. Unfortunately, long term grain free diet feeding in pets has been linked to chronic heart conditions, so please consult with your veterinarian before starting your pet on any grain free diets. Gluten allergies in pets on the other hand, are exceedingly rare and currently there is no concern over gluten allergies in pets.
Q: I’ve been feeding my pet the same food for years. There is no way it can be causing this allergic reaction, right?
A: It can often take time for food allergies in pets (or any allergy, really) to develop, just like with people. It is currently believed that a certain limit of exposure to any specific allergen must be hit in order for the reaction to develop. In other words, your pet’s immune system must be exposed to the allergen multiple times to trigger the reaction. It is the same reason why we see a person suddenly develop allergies to pineapple, or seafood, when they’ve never showed signs before.
Q: Can food allergies also cause digestive issues in pets?
A: Definitely, in addition to itchy paws, ears, and muzzle, food allergies in pets can often times also cause some issues with the gastrointestinal system, resulting in soft stool or diarrhea, or vomiting long term.
I hope you’ve found these answers to some common questions about allergies in pets to be helpful. As always, we’re happy to hear from you if there are any other questions you would like us to answer! Please feel free to reach out to our team on Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, or in the comments section if you have any other questions or if you’ve found this article helpful.
About the Author:
Dr. Zonram Liao D.V.M. is a Southern California native, and earned his undergraduate degree from University of California, San Diego before obtaining his veterinary degree from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. He is not only a firm believer in the use of supportive care supplements to improve the health and happiness of his patients, but also is a strong advocate of the benefits of preventive care medicine for his patients as well. During his free time, Dr. Liao enjoys spending his time outdoors fishing and hiking, playing basketball, watching movies, cooking, traveling, and trying new foods.