What are allergies in pets?
Just as they are for people, allergies in pets are an exaggerated immune response to something in the environment that shouldn’t trigger one. Allergies typically cause lots of skin problems for pets, such as atopic dermatitis (better known as eczema in the human world). It’s common for pets with allergies to suffer from chronic ear and anal gland infections and itchy skin, especially on the face, paws, armpits, and lower belly.
Unfortunately, because pets tend to scratch and chew on their itchy spots, they can get secondary infections when bacteria or yeast come into contact with irritated skin. Feline asthma is also often triggered by allergies, which cause an excessive immune response (inflammation) in the lungs.
What causes allergies in pets?
Environmental allergens for dogs include pollen, molds, grass, trees, and dust mites. Another common allergen is flea saliva, which causes a disease called flea allergy dermatitis. Food allergies account for about 10% of allergies in pets. Although it may be surprising to hear, since you probably think of your dog as the ultimate carnivore, the most frequent allergy culprit is a protein, usually chicken or beef. But certain dogs can also be allergic to carbohydrates, preservatives, or food dyes.
Our doctors will ask about your pet’s diet and medical history; if your pet only tends to get allergies at a specific time of year or in a certain place, this may indicate an environmental allergen is the culprit. We may recommend further testing, such as serologic (blood) testing, intradermal skin testing or a food elimination diet to help determine the precise allergen(s) affecting your pet and guide the treatment plan.
Treating other dermatological issues
Besides allergies, there are a number of other issues that can cause skin problems for pets, including infections, fleas, ringworm, hair loss (alopecia), hot spots and dry skin, amongst others. Our doctors can diagnose and treat all skin conditions, and help you to make lifestyle changes to help prevent the skin condition from recurring in your pet.
- Can my pet’s allergies be cured?While allergies cannot be cured, they can usually be managed well with medication and/or lifestyle changes. Treatment may include anti-allergy medication such as antihistamines, steroids, or other immune-modulating drugs; providing allergy shots; preventing exposure to allergens; prescribing a special diet; and treating secondary skin infections with antibiotics, antifungals, and/or ear medications.
- Can my pet develop allergies later in life?Yes, pets can develop allergies at any stage in life. Sometimes, you may find that your pet suddenly becomes allergic to a stimulus that never caused issues before. If you notice any symptoms of skin problems, itchiness or gastrointestinal issues, you should discuss with your veterinarian.
- Are some breeds more prone to allergies and skin conditions than others?Yes. French bulldogs, Westhighland White Terriers, Pitbulls, Boston Terriers, German Shepherds, Labradors and Golden Retrievers, amongst others, are more predisposed to allergies and skin conditions.
- Can an allergic reaction be fatal?Thankfully, pets suffer from severe anaphylactic allergic reactions very rarely; these may occur if bitten by an insect (bee or wasp) or if they take medication they are allergic to, but they are thankfully very infrequent. More common allergic reactions include allergic dermatitis (skin inflammation) and less commonly, facial swelling and hives.
- Should I cook for my pet, rather than buy their food?Many people value home cooked diets for their pets, as they know exactly what is going in it. However, it’s unfortunately very difficult to create a properly balanced diet with all the nutrients your pet needs to thrive. If you’d like to provide homemade food for your pet, you should speak to our doctors to ensure there are no underlying medical issues that may make certain types of diets less desirable for your pet. To create a diet plan, we recommend either using the Balance It website which helps to formulate a balanced diet for your pet, or working directly with a veterinary nutritionist. Some good alternatives include NomNomNow or Just Food For Dogs/Just Food For Cats; they’re fresh pet foods delivered to your door that are precisely formulated under the supervision of veterinary nutritionists, so you can ensure your pet is getting the nutrients needed.