Many factors can cause your pet to have an allergic reaction, and allergic pets can be difficult to manage. Unfortunately, some common beliefs about pet allergies are untrue, and your pet cannot get the care they need if you do not know the truth about the condition. Therefore, our Marcy Veterinary Clinic team wants to help by explaining some truths about allergic pets.

Myth: My pet is not allergic because they are not sneezing

Truth: Most allergic pets exhibit signs associated with itchy, inflamed skin that they typically scratch, lick, rub, and chew obsessively. Affected areas may also be red and appear swollen, and skin excoriations may be visible where your pet has scratched. In addition, crusty skin lesions and hair loss are possible as the condition progresses. Pets affected by food allergies may also exhibit gastrointestinal signs, such as diarrhea and chronic gas.

Myth: Food allergies are prevalent in pets

Truth: Food allergies account for approximately 0.2% of allergies in dogs and 0.1% of allergies in cats. Flea bite and environmental allergies are much more common in pets. 

Myth: If I never find fleas on my pet, they are not the problem

Truth: Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common skin disease in pets, and the bite from a single flea can cause a severe reaction that makes them extremely itchy. The affected pet grooms excessively, and in many cases, they remove all fleas from their coat, making finding the offending flea difficult. Flea dirt (i.e., flea droppings) found in your pet’s coat or bedding and your pet’s skin lesions can indicate a flea allergy. Skin lesions and hair loss are commonly seen on the lower back, under their tail, and on their thighs and abdomen. A therapeutic trial may be recommended for a suspected flea allergy, to determine if flea removal from your pet and their environment will alleviate their signs. Steps include:

  • Bathing your pet — Bathing your pet can immediately kill the fleas in your pet’s coat, plus a flea comb can help ensure no parasites are overlooked.
  • Cleaning your pet’s bedding  — Fleas and flea eggs are commonly found where your pet rests, so you should launder or discard their bedding.
  • Vacuuming your pet’s environment — Vacuum the upholstery and carpet in your pet’s resting areas, and discard the vacuum bag.
  • Treating your pet’s environment — Use an appropriate insecticide to treat your pet’s environment to kill fleas at all life stages. You should also treat your yard if your pet spends time outdoors.
  • Providing year-round flea prevention — Your pet will need year-round flea prevention medication to avoid recurrence.

Myth: Allergy testing can be performed to diagnose my pet’s allergy

Truth: Allergy testing is a diagnostic tool used for atopic pets (i.e., pets who are hypersensitive to environmental allergens). These pets typically start exhibiting signs between the ages of 1 and 3 years, and their feet, ears, armpits, abdomen, and face are commonly affected. Atopic pets also often have secondary skin and ear infections. If our veterinary team suspects atopy, they may place your pet on a trial course of steroids, since atopy usually responds quickly to these drugs. If the steroids alleviate your pet’s signs, we may perform allergy testing, using skin and blood testing, to determine the environmental allergens causing your pet’s reaction. Potential offenders include tree pollen, grass pollen, weeds, mold, dust mites, and pet dander. 

Myth: I can switch my pet to a grain-free diet to treat their food allergy

Truth: Food allergic pets are most commonly responding to their food’s protein source. Common food allergens include beef, dairy, chicken, and eggs. If the grain-free diet you choose contains the same protein source as your pet’s current food, their signs will likely not resolve. The only way to effectively treat a food allergy is to determine and then eliminate the ingredient causing the reaction. A food elimination trial is necessary to diagnose a pet’s food allergy. Steps include:

  • Switching your pet’s diet — Your pet’s diet will be changed to a food that won’t induce an allergic reaction. This can be accomplished in two ways:
  • Novel diet — Feeding a diet with one protein and one carbohydrate, such as venison and pumpkin, duck and potato, and kangaroo and peas, that your pet has never eaten previously.
  • Hydrolyzed diet — Feeding a diet in which the protein has been broken down to such a small size that the immune system does not react.
  • Practicing vigilance — Your pet must remain on this diet for at least eight weeks, and must not eat other treats, table scraps, or flavored medications whose ingredients are not included in their trial diet. 
  • Returning to the original diet — If signs resolve, your pet will be returned to their original diet to verify a food allergy. A food allergy is diagnosed if their signs return. 
  • Determining the offending ingredient — To determine the exact ingredient causing the problem, once your pet is back on the hypoallergenic diet and their signs have resolved, we will challenge them with the individual ingredients from their original diet. 

Myth: I can use antihistamines to control my pet’s environmental allergies

Truth: Antihistamines have a limited effect on atopic pets, and multiple treatment methods are typically used to address this condition, including:

  • Allergen specific immunotherapy — When allergy testing is performed, the data can be used to produce allergy shots that desensitize a pet to their allergens. Approximately 60% to 80% of pets improve on immunotherapy.
  • Steroids — Steroids are frequently used to decrease inflammation, especially in the initial stages. These medications are effective, but should be used at their lowest effective dose, since they can cause serious side effects.
  • Anti-itch medications — Many anti-itch medications can help alleviate atopic signs.
  • Removing allergens — Frequent bathing can help remove allergens from your pet’s skin. You can also use a wet cloth to wipe them down after being outside. 

Knowing the truth about pet allergies can ensure your pet receives the care they need. If you have an itchy pet, contact our team at Marcy Veterinary Clinic, so we can determine the best treatment strategy and alleviate your pet’s suffering.