Did you know that our dogs and cats can be plagued with allergies, just like humans? It seems as if more people are talking about pet allergies than ever before.
Are our pets becoming sicker, or is our environment more toxic? Most vets agree that the increase in allergy diagnoses are due to the fact that humans are becoming more aware of allergens for themselves. This awareness is now trickling down to our pets.
Pet insurance companies report that allergies have replaced the other most common claims, which were previously treatments for ear infections and ingesting foreign bodies.
“Allergies are now the most common thing we see insurance claims for,” says Dr. Kerri Marshall, a chief veterinary officer at Trupanion, a pet insurance provider.
Diagnosing and treating the cause of allergies isn't easy. It can be expensive too.
Here are tips to get you headed in the right direction towards alleviating your pet's discomfort.
An allergy occurs when a pet's immune system overreacts to foreign substances or particles (called allergens). The two types of allergies your pet may be dealing with maybe environmental (i.e., seasonal allergies) and/or from food allergies.
Environmental allergies may be triggered by airborne irritants or through physical contact with the allergen.
Generally, seasonal allergies only take place during the spring and summer. If, however, you live in a climate where there isn't a hard winter freeze, the outside allergens may exist throughout the year.
If your pet seems uncomfortable all year long, even with an allergen-limiting climate, you might be dealing with a food allergy or an irritant in your home.
Human allergies are pretty obvious because we often get respiratory symptoms (sneezing and congestion) or hives. For dogs and cats, their symptoms tend to manifest as skin problems. Some dogs and cats will also sneeze and get itchy and watery eyes, however.
If your pet has allergies to food or to environmental triggers, his or her skin will become very itchy. They will begin to scratch a lot and might even start biting or chewing parts of their bodies. Another sign of itching is that your pet may rub up against furniture or roll on the carpet in an attempt to get relief from the itchy feeling.
In many cases, the constant scratching causes the skin to become inflamed, which creates a vicious cycle with the skin becoming even more itchy and irritated. Eventually, there may be accompanying hair loss or even open sores and scabs.
If the inflamed skin becomes infected, the wound becomes what's known as a hot spot. These areas are red, will bleed easily and the hair is missing. Luckily, cats don't usually get hot spots.
Pay attention to the ears
Dogs who are having allergy issues regularly have symptoms with their ears. If your pet is scratching at his ears, shaking his head or losing hair around his ears, it could be a sign of generalized allergies or an infection. Sometimes the chronic itching causes a secondary infection from yeast or bacteria. If this is the case, your pet's ears may smell or maybe goopy.
Cats don't generally manifest allergy symptoms in their ears.
While respiratory symptoms are less common in pets than skin reactions, they do still occur. When pets breathe in an airborne allergen, they may sneeze, cough, have a runny nose and itchy eyes.
Common airborne allergens include tree, grass and weed pollens. These are generally seasonal. Mold, mildew and dust mites can be indoor triggers that plague pets year-round.
Allergies from inhaled irritants can be particularly problematic for dogs with congenital breathing problems such as Bulldogs, Pekingese, and Pugs.
It's important to consult with your veterinarian about allergies since untreated reactions can turn into chronic problems that are difficult to get under control. Your vet can run accurate tests to determine what your dog is allergic to. These may include blood tests for antibodies and skin prick tests for environmental triggers.
There are clues that can guide you and your vet to solving the allergen trigger puzzles. For instance, if your dog has itchy and inflamed paws, they may be suffering from a contact allergy from grass or weeds.
If your dog or cat is dealing with a food allergy, the symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, gassiness or redness and irritation of the anus.
Ideally, you will be able to eliminate whatever is causing your pet's allergies. Removing the allergen may mean that chronic medications can be avoided.
If the trigger is based indoors, such as dander, dust mites or mold, it will be easier to eliminate these allergens. This can be accomplished with an air duct cleaning, washing pet bedding, using a good vacuum and with the use of an air-scrubbing device. Some people may opt to replace their carpet with hard flooring.
Outdoor allergens can't really be controlled, other than limiting your pet's time outside when the allergy index is showing high levels of the substance your pet is allergic to. Boots may be helpful for outdoor contact allergies to weeds or grass.
Some pets are allergic to flea bites. Normally fleas will irritate a pet, but dogs and cats with a flea-bite allergy will have an extreme itch reaction. Be sure your pet uses appropriate flea and tick products to prevent this.
If the allergy is related to diet, your vet may direct you towards a gluten-free or grain-free food. Some pets are allergic to a particular type of meat, such as poultry or beef. In this case, a fish-based diet may be in order.
Keep in mind that food allergies may develop over time. Just because your pet has always done fine on a particular diet doesn't mean that they won't ever develop an allergy to something in the formula. Sometimes pet food companies change their formulas too, which may trigger a new reaction.
In some cases, it may not be possible to eliminate what is triggering your pet's allergies. This is true if your pet happens to be allergic to you! (Yes, some pets are allergic to human dander.)
If it is impossible to get rid of the substance that is causing your pet's allergies, your vet may recommend allergy injections. These are customized from the results of a skin-prick test. Be advised that the skin test and the customized injections may range from $350 - $750, and the weekly injections could be around $90 a month. The benefit of doing these tests and injections is that they are more holistic than chronic medications.
Some veterinarians recommend good old Benadryl (diphenhydramine) as an allergy medication for pets. Be sure to get an accurate dose level for your dog or cat from your vet!
Some people have found that alternative therapies are helpful for their own allergies. Pet parents have also helped their furry charges find relief through therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathic pet formulations, herbs, and essential oils.
Baths can be helpful to remove allergens from your pet's fur. Anti-itching shampoos and conditioners will provide instant relief. Do take care not to over bathe your pet, however, as this can dry out the skin, which undermines your efforts to keep your pet from itching.
Traditionally, oatmeal-based shampoos are recommended for anti-itch therapy, but if your dog has a grain or gluten sensitivity, you'll want to skip this. This shampoo for dry skin is a good oatmeal-free alternative.
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that suppress histamines (like a natural Benadryl.)
Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation throughout the body. The best sources of omega 3s are krill oil, salmon oil, tuna oil, anchovy oil, and other fish body oils. Our skin and coat supplements contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
Coconut oil used internally and externally is helpful. Not only does it moisturize from within and soothe topically, but it also reduces systemic yeast and decreases inflammation. Fish and coconut oil used together can be very effective in reducing or preventing flare-ups.
Yes, it is in fact a real problem that more pet owners should be aware of! We all want our dogs and cats as happy and healthy as ever! Now you can get closer to figuring out what has been irritating your furry best friend!