Scratching, chewing, ear infections, hair loss, hot spots, even vomiting or diarrhea could be signs that your pet is suffering from allergies.
Just like humans, dogs and cats can be allergic to substances that they breathe, touch or eat. Unlike humans, pets with allergies rarely sneeze, cough or have runny eyes. Most often, their skin itches or their ears become red, inflamed and sore. In fact, most of the ear infections we see are due to allergies. Allergic pets may lose hair or have eruptions on their skin. In some cases, reactions include swelling of the face or throat (anaphylaxis), which can be a life-threatening emergency. Allergic reactions can get worse with repeated exposure, so it is important to determine the cause of the problem and address it. We offer allergy testing and comprehensive treatment plans for inhalant, contact and food allergies.
What is an allergen?
An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic response—that is, the body overreacts. Pets can be allergic to many different substances in their environment, indoors or outside. We usually find that a food substance is the most common cause of most reactions. Listed below are some common allergens.
- Flea bites
- Household cleaning products, laundry detergents, etc.
- Dust or dust mites
- Mold spores
- Wheat or other grains
- Specific types of proteins (e.g. chicken, beef or pork)
Contact and inhaled allergies
If we suspect an allergy, we can use a blood test or skin test to help pinpoint the allergen and determine management and treatment options. We can recommend strategies to reduce or eliminate contact with the allergen, including:
- Using an air cleaner and vacuum with HEPA filtration
- Wiping your pet’s body and feet with tepid water after going outside
- Checking your house for mold—for your pet’s sake and your own
- Feeding a home-prepared raw/cooked diet or canned food to avoid the dust mites in dry food
- Using medicated shampoos
- Using a medication to prevent fleas
In some cases, we may recommend a treatment plan to help desensitize your pet to the allergens involved. Allergy desensitization involves giving a series of injections over time, or using a new sublingual (under-the-tongue) medication. We will discuss the benefits and risks of each approach so you can make the best decision for your pet.
Food allergies can be very challenging. A “food trial” is an important step in diagnosing a food allergy. This involves changing your pet’s diet. We may prescribe one or more options:
- A limited novel ingredient diet containing ingredients not common to commercial pet foods. These diets can be prescription, over the counter or home prepared.
- An allergen elimination diet formulated with ingredients that have been modified to reduce or eliminate allergic reactions.
What to expect
If we are doing a serum, or blood test, for allergies, we will draw blood and send it to a specialized laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will send a report identifying allergens that are causing your pet problems.
If we are doing a food trial, it is very important that your pet adheres strictly to the new diet. Do not deviate from the prescribed diet/ingredients at all. You must eliminate all treats that include anything other than the prescribed ingredients. Doing so could cause a setback, because it takes time for the body to eliminate food allergens. You should feed the prescribed exclusively for three to four months. This is usually sufficient time to see an improvement and identify the offending allergen.
Many pets are allergic to more than one allergen—for example, to a grass or weed and a food substance. Sometimes, if we control one allergen, the other one will stop bothering your pet. Many allergies occur only at certain times of year, so it is important to pay attention to the seasons when you think your pet’s symptoms are better or worse. Food allergies often occur when a pet is on the same diet for a long time. We generally recommend that you vary your pet’s diet—brands of food as well as protein types—every three to six months if your pet will tolerate it.
Allergy Article: So my pet has allergies . . . .