As springtime comes upon us, many of us also start getting the ills of our springtime allergies- sneezing, itchy eyes, running noses, and sore throats. Well, guess what? Just like us, our pets can suffer from allergies, too! Pets with allergies can have mild symptoms to severe symptoms. Some are similar to those which we suffer from, and some are different. The good news is, there are treatments available that provide relief to your pet, which we will discuss below.
Signs of Pet Allergies:
Pets with allergies may have one or more of the following signs:
- Itchy skin
- Itchy ears
- “Reverse sneezing”
- Runny nose
- Eye drainage/Irritated eyes
Itchy skin and ears are the most common signs of allergies in pets. Pets with allergies usually develop a lot of inflammation in their skin, which causes them to itch and scratch with intensity. The itching is usually worse at night when they are relaxed and not focused on anything else. This can often cause you to lose sleep if your pet is up scratching all night.
Some pets with allergies may just have some sneezing or what we refer to as “reverse sneezing”. This is more common in dogs. They will get themselves into a fit and it almost looks like and sounds like they are snorting or wheezing and trying to breath with fierce effort. They usually are back to normal within a few seconds to one minute.
Causes of Allergies
Pets can have allergies from many different things. Some of the common causes of allergies in pets are:
- Pollen (all different kinds)
- Detergents, shampoos, things they may come into contact with
Environmental (seasonal) allergies are usually caused by various types of pollens that are floating around in the air. This is usually at its worst in the springtime and the fall. However, some pets are more sensitive to certain pollens that come out in the summer and/or winter. Allergies caused by pollen can result in any or all of the signs of allergies, including itchy skin and ears, sneezing, runny noses, and irritated eyes.
Food allergies usually cause itchy skin and occasionally problems with digestion (vomiting and diarrhea). The cause of the food allergy is usually due to the protein source within the food (chicken, pork, or beef). Some pets may be allergic to the carbohydrate source (rice, potato) or even to a particular dye within the food that makes it look a certain color.
Even though fleas usually cause itching, pets with flea allergy really tear their skin up way more than a pet that doesn’t have a flea allergy. If your pet has a flea allergy, their skin will be very red and inflamed even though you may not visibly see fleas walking around on them. They will have incessant itching even with just one or two fleas on them.
Finally, some pets may have an allergy to certain shampoos, conditioners, or even detergents you may use for their bedding or your bedding.
When to Call the Vet
If your pet just as a mild itch or occasional sneezing, it is fine to wait it out to see if your pet is able to get through their allergy season on their own. Do not give into temptation to give your pet any human allergy medications, especially the ones with decongestants in it, as these can be very toxic to your pet.
Here are some reasons you should schedule an appointment with your vet:
- If your pet begins scratching their skin every time they are at rest
- if the need to scratch is interfering with their normal daily activities
- if they feel down and out and don’t even have the energy to eat their normal amount of food
- if you are seeing bumps, scratches, or a lot of redness on their skin
- if they are losing fur
It’s important to get your pet into the vet sooner rather than later because as your pet starts tearing up their skin they can develop secondary bacterial and/or yeast infections. The earlier the itch is treated, the better chance you have at getting it under control without further complications.
Your vet can examine your pet to look at their pattern of itch and skin irritation. This can help guide them in offering you some advice on what the underlying cause of your pet’s itch may be. Then, they can work with you to develop a short-term and long-term treatment plan. Depending on what your vet sees on your pet, they may prescribe or recommend one or multiple of the following treatments:
- anti-itch medication (there are so many options available these days for our pets!)
- special shampoo
- antifungal medication
- ear drops
- eye drops
- fish oils
- medicated skin wipes
- flea prevention medications
- restricting certain foods from your pet’s diet
- prescription food
- food trial
- allergy testing and allergy shots
Working with your vet is the best way to get your pet’s itch under control. Sometimes it will be through trial and error, while other times it may be very straight forward and an easy fix. Keeping an open mind and understanding that allergies can be very frustrating to truly get under control will help you through this process.
Leslie Brooks graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. After graduation she did a one-year intensive rotating clinical internship, with rotations in various specialties. She has been working in small animal clinical medicine ever since and ran her own house call practice for three years. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband, son, and cat named Callie. She spends much of her free time volunteering in the community, from Meals on Wheels to working with pets of the homeless and vulnerable. She also loves to travel and read.