There are common types of allergies in our companion animals that depending on the species, may affect them differently. Environmental allergies (atopy), food allergies, flea bite allergies, and contact dermatitis are usually the four main types seen for cats and dogs. Let us review and briefly discuss what signs you may see, as well as common relief options.
Recognizing the signs and learning how to avoid exposure can help improve your pet’s quality of life. Diagnosis of these allergies may be determined by using blood tests or intradermal skin tests, food elimination trials, or even just with an exam. We suggest talking with your vet about your concerns to ensure there are no other underlying issues.
Environmental Allergies (Atopy)
Atopy, or environmental allergies, could consist of anything in the environment from mold to pollen or even animal dander. Your pet could be allergic to anything in the environment seasonally or year-round.
While there can be other symptoms, canine environmental allergies typically cause things like red itchy/flaky skin (rashes or hotspots), skin and ear infections, and watery eyes. Most commonly, the ears, paws/pads, under arms and lower belly area breakouts creating continuous scratching or licking.
Certain antihistamines may offer your pet relief in mild cases, but other forms of support treatment may help with relief. As with humans, dogs and cats may benefit from a change in diet, reduction of exposure to allergens when possible and even nutritional supplements. In more severe cases, veterinarians can prescribe medications like steroids, immunotherapy, or other immunosuppressive medications for relief.
With our feline friends, atopy allergies most often will present as asthma instead of skin irritation. Wheezing, coughing, or trouble breathing are the symptoms and are often seasonal. An affected feline may show scabbing and irritation around their face or lower stomach area, which can also be present with other types of feline allergies. Unfortunately, the medication, Apoquel, seems to have limited efficacy in cats and Cytopoint is only for dogs. For cats displaying signs of environmental allergies, the veterinarian will usually prescribe steroids, immunosuppressive medications, or immunotherapy. Asthmatic cats can get oral or inhaled steroids with bronchodilators for treatment.
Reducing the environmental allergens in your home can help with atopy allergies, especially with indoor cats. Reducing the dust, smoke, perfumes, household cleansers or other air scents can be helpful. In home air filters and regular cleaning may be helpful as well. If you think your pet could be struggling with allergies, it is best to get your veterinarian involved.
Flea Bite Allergies
Allergies from flea bites are also very common in dogs and cats. Monthly flea prevention for the life of the pet is highly recommended, even in the winter, including your indoor only cats. You may see live fleas or find little specks of flea dirt (feces) in their fur. These critters like to hang out around the base of the tail, lower abdomen, or the head/neck in cats. Sensitive animals may chew their hair out in these areas or have scabbing. Flea combs are helpful to check your pet for fleas or signs of fleas. Apoquel or steroids might be helpful in controlling your pet’s symptoms, however until the flea population in your home is addressed, the problem will continue. By using quality brand products consistently, one can manage the outbreak of flea bites, helping avoid the allergy reactions that come along with the parasitic attack on your pet.
Food allergies often get the most attention amongst pet owners because of the variety of pet food choices available these days. Food related allergies, in cats and dogs, are usually related to the protein source in the food. Grain allergies can also be common resulting in grain free foods which are becoming a more popular choice in the pet food industry.
True food allergies in companion animals may present as skin issues, ear infections, or gastrointestinal in nature. Unfortunately, blood tests do not provide an accurate way to identify food allergies in pets. Instead, a limited ingredient diet or food trial for up to 12 weeks may eliminate or identify and manage the allergy. In these cases, your pet should not eat anything other than the LID (limited ingredient diet) food during that time or else the results may be inconclusive.
The type of food your pet eats is important and depending on their health, food trials for allergy identification purposes should adhere to recommendations by a qualified professional to ensure the pet remains healthy. It is best to consult your veterinarian or pet food specialist if you think your pet may have a food allergy before changing their diet. Some pet food companies offer nutritional support to help guide you towards transitioning to the best recipe for your pet’s needs.
Contact dermatitis is exactly what it sounds like. The pet encounters something that causes an allergic reaction on the skin. This may be mild or severe, but in general there will be skin irritation, bumps, or redness in the area. Most commonly, it shows up on the lower abdomen where there is less hair to protect the pets skin. Deducing what the irritant is and removing it is the simplest way to resolve the issue. Changes in laundry detergent or cleaning solutions may be a source to consider. Less commonly thought of causes are plug in air fresheners or auto sprayers and even applying cologne or perfume when they are close to you. When trying to locate the problem, pay attention to where your pet likes to hang out during the day or where they may have encountered something new that could affect that area on the pet’s skin.
Allergies are manageable, but rarely completely cured, more likely avoided. Diagnosing the type of allergy and finding the best options for relief can sometimes be challenging. Severe cases may need the help of a specialty veterinary dermatologist. Recognizing the early signs of an allergy flare and addressing it quickly can reduce your pet’s discomfort and the ability for allergies to accelerate, saving money and heartache.