Just like their owners, allergies in pets are a common occurance with an estimated 20% of dogs suffering from them.
Allergies in pets can vary from food, environmental or household, and 10% of allergies in dogs are said to be food related, but many pets can suffer from more than one. There are certain breeds of cats and dogs that are more susceptible to allergies and most commonly affected. These include, Retrievers, German Shepherds, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels and Rex Cats. The type of allergy that your pet has can be hard to diagnose as many of the symptoms are almost identical.
Although they can suffer with more than one allergy, there are three common types that pets can develop:
- Atopy (also known as Atopic Dermatitis)
- Flea allergy
- Food allergy
Other causes of common allergies in pets can include, pollen, mold spores, dust, feathers, perfumes, cleaning products and fleas.
Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy) is an allergy to something in the environment, such as pollen, molds, grass or dust mites. Pets with Atopic Dermatitis tend to have very itchy skin, usually it’s worse on their paws, ears, tummy and armpits. If your pet has Atopic Dermatitis they may be constantly scratching, licking and biting, which can make their skin red, sore and open to infection. Pets can develop Atopic Dermatitis at any age, although it can be more common in young dogs and in certain breeds, such as the West Highland Terrier (Westie). Common symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis can include itchy skin, ear infections, licking or chewing themselves, hair loss, dark/thickened skin, weepy eyes, bacterial skin infections and yeast infections.
Finding out what your pet is allergic to can be quite challenging as flea and food allergies can cause almost identical symptoms as Atopic Dermatitis. To help reduce symptoms and prevent future flare ups, your vet may recommend steps to avoid triggers, such as:
- Avoid walks when the pollen count is high
- Rinsing your dog off after walking in long grass
- Avoiding sprays (except flea sprays) in the home
- Vacuum and dust regularly
- Keep your pet up-to-date with their flea treatment, symptoms are likely to flare up if they are bitten.
Food allergies in pets
A food allergy is when a pet’s immune system overreacts to one or more of the ingredients in their diet. Symptoms usually include skin problems, and /or tummy problems (such as diarrhea and vomiting). Common signs that your pet could be suffering from a food allergy could include:
- Itchy skin
- A rash, sore red skin
- Sore tummy
- Excessive wind
Food allergies in dogs can develop at any stage of their life but are most common when they are less than a year old. In cats, they can develop by 4-5 years old. It’s not always easy trying to find what your pet may be allergic too. A food elimination diet for a period of 8-12 weeks is often used to diagnose a food allergy. Dogs tend to be allergic to protein (meat or dairy). Some dogs can also be allergic to other ingredients such as wheat and grains.
Cats can be allergic to products such as beef, dairy or fish. If a food allergy is well managed, your pet can live a perfectly normal life. However, if their food allergy is left untreated, they can have a serious effect on your pet’s health and quality of life. To stop your pet from having symptoms in future, your vet may advise you to only feed your dog or cat food that contains ‘safe’ ingredients.
Pets are unwittingly fed an unnatural diet, which are high in Omega-6 fatty acids, derived from high levels of cereals and vegetable proteins. Too much Omega-6 can have a negative effect on a pet’s skin health. Counteracting the Omega-6 imbalance with Omega-3s can help to reduce inflammation from allergies.
When your pet gets bitten by a flea, it injects saliva into their skin. Flea saliva is irritating to most animals, including humans and can trigger an allergic reaction in some cats and dogs. Everyday itching from a flea bite is not the same as a flea allergy. A pet that is allergic to flea bites will have a skin reaction every time they are bitten, which can cause intense itching and inflammation of the skin. Other common signs of an allergic reaction to fleas include hair loss, over grooming, lumpy skin, red, inflamed skin and fleas.
If your pet has a flea allergy, as an owner you need to ensure it is managed properly. A poorly managed flea allergy could cause severe skin disease and illness. With the advice and treatment from your vet and a good flea control, most pet’s with flea allergies can live a happy and healthy life.
Your vet will be able to offer advice on the best flea treatment sufficient for your pet. Be sure to also treat areas of your home where your pet may venture and make sure you treat both indoor and outdoor cats as outdoor cats can bring fleas inside. A flea treatment is often not enough to control the problem, a repellent is usually needed too, and you will need to make sure your home and pets are flea-free all year round.