When pollen is thick in the spring air, allergies routinely make many people miserable, and pets can also suffer. Like people, pets can be allergic to a wide assortment of substances, and certain times of year can be worse than others. Some pets also have year-round allergy issues. If you think your furry pal is uncomfortable due to allergies there are numerous treatment options that can relieve their itchy skin and other symptoms. Our Johnson County Animal Hospital team answers pet owners’ frequent questions about allergies in their four-legged companions, so check out our FAQs if you have an itchy pet.

Question: What is an allergy in pets?

Answer: An allergy occurs when the immune system has an overactive response to a trigger. While foreign substances, like pollen, leather, and dust mites, are typically harmless and fail to alert the immune system, pets allergic to certain materials have a hypersensitive immune system that occasionally jumps into overdrive. Essentially, an allergy is an exaggerated response by the immune system to a benign substance.

Q: What are common allergens in pets?

A: Pets develop allergies to many of the same substances as people, and generally suffer with contact or environmental allergies, or inhalant allergies, known as atopy. Some of the most common allergens in pets include:

  • Fleas
  • Mold spores
  • Pollens
  • Plant and animal fibers (e.g., leather, plastic, feathers)
  • Dust mites

However, pets can be allergic to many, many substances, and extensive testing is required to fully unearth the problem behind your pet’s allergies.

Q: What are allergy signs in pets?

A: Unlike people, your pet’s allergies will most likely manifest as skin issues, rather than sneezing and watery eyes. Common allergy signs in pets include: 

  • Itchy, irritated, reddened skin
  • Scratching, licking, and chewing at skin, paws, and ears
  • Face rubbing
  • Fur loss
  • Recurrent skin and ear infections
  • Anal gland issues

The severity of your pet’s allergy depends on the type, such as inhalant, contact, flea, etc.

Q: How will I know my pet’s allergy trigger?

A: Allergy testing in pets can be accomplished with various methods. For seasonal and environmental allergies, blood and skin testing is accurate, with intradermal testing topping out as the gold standard. Intradermal and blood testing will provide a list of allergens that may trigger your pet’s reaction, so our veterinarians can determine the appropriate treatment plan. 

Q: I’ve heard many pets are allergic to grains. Is that true?

A: Food allergies are actually rare in pets, and an allergy to grain is most unlikely. However, grain- and gluten-free pet foods followed the human nutrition trend and have been widely marketed in the pet industry. In truth, your pet’s diet should not exclude grains, as they are an excellent source of energy and provide many vital nutrients. The FDA is currently investigating a possible link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. If you are interested in switching your pet’s diet, we recommend speaking to our veterinarians first to ensure your pet is getting the correct dietary nutrition they need.

Q: How can I tell if my pet is allergic to their food?

A: Food allergies are rare, but they do appear on occasion, more likely as an allergy to the food’s protein source rather than an allergy to corn. The most common food allergens include chicken, beef, lamb, eggs, and dairy products. Diagnosing a food allergy is challenging, because no easy blood test is available. Instead, a pet must be fed a hypoallergenic diet for 8 to 12 weeks, and cannot ingest any other foods, treats, or flavored toys or medications during the trial. This hypoallergenic diet is either specially processed to eliminate the potential for allergic reactions, such as a prescription hydrolyzed diet, or a diet with a novel protein source your pet has never had before, like duck, bison, or venison. After the hypoallergenic diet trial, a food with a potential allergen will be reintroduced to your pet to check their reaction. For example, your pet may be offered a chicken-based diet, and if they break out in an itchy rash, they’re allergic to chicken.

Q: How can my pet’s allergies be managed?

A: Allergies typically worsen as pets age, so their treatment plan will likely change over time. Most pets require multiple treatment modalities for maximum comfort, as some treatments work better than others in their particular allergy situation. Treatments can include:

  • Oral medications, such as Apoquel, Atopica, or antihistamines
  • Injectable medications, such as Cytopoint
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Corticosteroids in injectable or oral form
  • Frequent bathing with medicated shampoos
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Year-round flea prevention
  • Prescription diets
  • Skin health supplements

With so many nuances to allergies and their treatments, finding the perfect combination for your itchy pet can be trial and error. 

Do you suspect your pet has allergies? If you’ve noticed your furry pal chewing, scratching, and licking, especially as spring and summer approach, contact our Johnson County Animal Hospital team for an appointment, and let us give your pet some relief.