As spring flowers and trees add splashes of pastel colors and sweet fragrance to your neighborhood, you may relish this striking time of year. But, if your pet has seasonal allergies, they—and you—may dread springtime. In fact, simply breathing can leave your allergic pet a hot, itchy mess. Allergies are a common reason for springtime veterinary visits, so the Stack Veterinary Hospital team is taking this opportunity to review common allergies in pets. Not all pet allergies are caused by springtime blooms, so let’s find out what could be making your dog itch and scratch.
An overview of pet allergies
An allergy develops when your pet’s immune system becomes sensitized to a specific environmental substance, referred to as an allergen. Common pet allergens include:
- Food ingredients
Although a pet may be allergic to only one environmental substance, many allergic pets are sensitive to multiple allergens. When your pet is exposed to an allergen, their immune system overreacts and causes a cascade of events inside their body that manifests externally as allergy signs. While people with allergies tend to have respiratory signs, pet allergies typically cause skin issues, including:
- Hair loss
- Secondary skin infections
- Ear infections
- Scratching, biting, or licking the skin or feet
Pet allergies can range from mild, with only occasional itching, to severe, with intense, constant itching that can severely impact a pet’s quality of life.
Environmental allergies in pets
Environmental allergies (i.e., atopic dermatitis, or atopy) develop when a pet is allergic to pollens, molds, or mites in their environment. Although environmental allergies are responsible for many of the springtime allergy cases we treat, some allergens cause year-round, or non-seasonal problems for pets. For example, if your pet is allergic to pollen produced by springtime blooms, their allergies will flare up in the spring, when pollen levels are highest. However, if they are allergic to dust mites or molds inside your home, they may have year-round signs that may worsen during the winter months when they spend more time inside. Keep in mind that your pet may be allergic to multiple allergens—some seasonal, and some non-seasonal.
Flea allergies in pets
Fleas are pesky parasites that bite pets, leaving behind an itchy bump. However, pets with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) can suffer far greater consequences. A protein in the flea’s saliva can trigger an allergic reaction that causes severe itching, hair loss, and secondary skin infections. As few as one or two flea bites can cause weeks of misery for allergic pets, making strict flea prevention critical. FAD typically flares up in the spring and summer, when fleas are prevalent. But, signs may persist through the winter if a home infestation provides a constant source of fleas that bite your pet.
Food allergies in pets
Although environmental and flea allergies are more common, pets can also develop an allergy to a particular food ingredient, such as:
- Dairy products
Keep in mind that grain allergies are rare, and a grain-free diet is not warranted for most pets.
Food allergies typically cause intense, non-seasonal itching, often accompanied by chronic ear infections. A food allergy can develop anytime in a pet’s life, often after they have been eating the same food for months, or years. Unfortunately, no specific test is available for food allergies, and an elimination food trial is required for a diagnosis. During the trial, a pet is fed a diet with novel ingredients to which they have not likely had a previous exposure. If symptoms improve, a food ingredient is presumed the cause. A true diagnosis can be reached only by gradually reintroducing ingredients from the pet’s previous diet, to see which component causes a recurrence.
Allergy diagnosis and treatment
So, what should you do if your pet keeps you awake at night with their itching and scratching? First, schedule an appointment with our Stack Veterinary Hospital team, and fill us in on your pet’s situation. We can often make an allergy diagnosis based on your pet’s history and physical exam. Mild, seasonal cases can often be managed with medications to reduce itching and treat secondary skin infections during peak pollen seasons. Flea allergies can be managed with diligent flea prevention and environmental eradication.
If your pet’s allergies are particularly severe, or cause year-round signs, we may recommend allergy testing to identify your pet’s specific allergens. Although allergies cannot be cured, immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots or daily medication can often keep a pet’s allergies at a more manageable level, and allow them to live more comfortably.
If your pet has been itching and scratching, we can help. Call us to schedule an appointment, and find out if allergies are causing your pet’s discomfort.
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