Allergy symptoms like sniffling and scratching aren’t exclusive to humans. A lot of the sensitivities that cause discomfort for us can also bother cats or dogs. Because pinpointing the source can be tricky, you should always head to the vet if you suspect that your dog or cat has allergies, says Christine Cain, DVM, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Here, the most common allergens that may be irritating your furry friend and the best plans of attack.
The Allergy: Food
How to spot it: Itchy skin or gastrointestinal issues are typical symptoms. Since itchy skin can also appear with environmental allergies, your vet may want to adjust your pet’s diet (limiting it to specific ingredients for a trial period of a month or more, for example) to help make the diagnosis. “If the animal does have a food allergy, its itching will recur when the old food is reintroduced,” says William H. Miller Jr., VMD, professor of dermatology at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
How to treat it: Once an allergy is confirmed, “dietary modifications are the only way to treat the condition,” says Miller.
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The Allergy: Environmental
How to spot it: This can include pollens, mold spores, or dust mites. Itchy skin is common, but respiratory issues can also be a red flag, with the occasional runny eyes and sneezing in dogs and asthma in cats. If Fluffy’s symptoms are seasonal, that’s a sign that it’s something in the air. “If not, we need to exclude a food allergy first to arrive at a diagnosis of environmental allergy,” says Cain. (A dust mite allergy, say, could cause year-round symptoms.)
How to treat it: Many vets typically start with simple meds, like antihistamines, to tame the symptoms. But beware: “These drugs may become ineffective as the animal’s allergies worsen,” which can happen if, for example, the amount of the allergen in the air increases from season to season, explains Miller. Immunotherapy shots or drops may be an option for long-term relief. You could also try reducing your pet’s exposure to the allergen—vacuuming regularly, or wiping down paws or taking baths after walks outside.
The Allergy: Flea bites
How to spot it: Having fleas will make any pup itchy, but add an allergy and you’re looking at a whole additional layer of misery. “With a flea allergy, there’s an accentuated allergic response to even a low number of flea bites, due to exposure to flea saliva, which triggers the allergic reaction,” explains Cain. Signs of a flea allergy? “Dogs are usually itchy around their tail base or the back part of their body near the butt, inner thighs, and groin area,” says Cain. Other symptoms include excessive licking, chewing, hair loss, and red or crusty skin.
How to treat it: The solution (no surprise) is to eliminate the infestation. Stick with the strict flea-control treatment recommended by your vet.