Many of us know the feeling of getting itchy during allergy season—and unfortunately, our pets go through it too! Dogs and cats can suffer from both seasonal and chronic allergies. Here’s how to help!
Symptoms of Allergies in Pets
First things first, you have to figure out if your pet’s itchy spots are actually an allergic reaction. Many things can make them itchy, from insect bites to taking a stroll through a patch of poison ivy. Even dry skin can be the cause of pesky skin itches! Once you’ve inspected your itchy pet and ruled out obvious causes, look for other symptoms that might indicate an allergy.
Watch out for new or persistent symptoms including:
- Increased (or incessant) scratching
- Excessive grooming, licking, or chewing
- Rubbing their face or body on surfaces (this includes “scooting” in dogs)
- Runny eyes or nose
- Sneezing and coughing
- A swollen, puffy appearance
- Recurring ear infections
Severe or persistent allergies can also lead to other complications, like:
- Red, bumpy, or crusty skin rashes
- Unusual or localized hair loss
- Scratches and open wounds
- Yeast or bacterial skin infections
- Asthma (can occur in cats from inhaled airborne allergens)
If you notice multiple lasting symptoms in your dog or cat, there’s a good chance they’re experiencing an allergic reaction.
Types of Allergies in Pets
Pets can experience several different types of allergic responses, and knowing what they’re suffering from can help you and your vet give them the best care.
Some pets just suffer from seasonal allergies caused by pollen, fungus, and other environmental factors. (At least if you and your pet are both sneezing in the spring, you’ll have someone to commiserate with.) Others experience chronic allergies, where the causes last beyond just one time of year. Chronic allergies can include allergies to food, fleas, or something irritating in their home environment.
Even those itchy rashes have different causes and treatments. Many pets suffer from dermatitis—a skin condition characterized by intensely itchy skin caused by an allergic reaction. Contact dermatitis can occur whenever your pet comes into physical contact with an allergen and is most common on areas with less dense fur, like the face, armpits, belly, and groin.
Atopic dermatitis, on the other hand, occurs when a pet inhales or ingests an allergen. Itchy spots can be localized or all over the body in these cases. Dogs are prone to developing hot spots (A.K.A. acute moist dermatitis) when open wounds from scratching get infected, leading to painful, oozing open sores.
Common Allergens for Pets
Wondering what’s giving your pet that intense itch? Allergens in pets are just as diverse as they are in humans, but there are three common categories of allergies behind those scratches and sneezes.
- Environmental allergies are caused by external irritants, including pollen, fungus, mold, dust, smoke, and even cleaning products or fragrances.
- Food allergies come from something in your pet’s diet—often soy, gluten, or a specific type of protein. These reactions can come from a new addition to your pet’s menu, or more commonly from an allergy developed over time from consistent exposure to one type of food.
- Flea allergies are a very common cause of dermatitis. Fleas irritate the surface of the skin itself, but the saliva from their bites can also cause systemic reactions in allergic pets.
How to Treat Allergies in Pets
If you suspect your pet is experiencing allergies, your first step should be to consult with your vet. Your pet’s treatment plan will depend both on the severity and the cause of their allergies, which in many cases can only be conclusively determined by your veterinarian.
If they don’t experience anything more than a couple of sneezes during pollen season and their quality of life is unaffected, you and your furry +1 will probably continue business as usual. When it comes to chronic allergies and more severe seasonal allergies, however, you’ll need to take a more active approach to helping your pet.
The best solution is always to remove the allergen whenever possible. For environmental allergens, either remove the source (e.g. removing heavy fragrances or cigarette smoke from your home) or reduce their contact with it as much as possible (e.g. limit time outside during peak allergen periods and keep inside air as clear as possible with frequent vacuuming and air filtration). Flea allergies can be addressed with flea treatment to eradicate the infestation and vigilant flea prevention methods afterward to prevent future problems.
It can be tricky to determine the cause of food allergies, but your vet will likely recommend feeding your pet a diet with limited ingredients (check out our Lovingly Simple formulas for dogs and cats!) and slowly reintroducing ingredients to identify the problem foods. Regular dietary supplements can also help to manage a variety of allergies in pets, and your vet can help you find the best effective, medically-reviewed supplements to make a difference in your pet’s health.
While fixing the root of the problem is important, alleviating the symptoms of your pet’s allergies will help them spend less time gnawing their itchy spots and more time doing what they love—i.e. interrupting your work calls for playtime. Antihistamines can stem systemic allergic responses. Topical pain-relief sprays can manage hot spots and other skin conditions. Home remedies like oatmeal baths can also be helpful to soothe itchy skin, while treats and hearty chews can help keep their attention engaged with something other than the itch!
While it might be tempting to try to alleviate your pet’s allergies on your own, it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian, even in mild cases. Many conditions can cause itching in pets, and it’s possible that what you think is an allergy could be a sign of a more serious condition. For example, itching skin can be a side effect of both liver disease and kidney disease—which you would be unlikely to diagnose without tests from a vet.
The good news is that allergies are manageable (as anyone who pre-purchases spring antihistamines knows). Your pet has you on their team to help them ditch the allergy symptoms and get back to being your happy, healthy, attached-to-your-hip best friend.