Allergy season is upon us and like humans, dogs and cats can have allergy problems too. Allergies are when the body’s immune system overreacts to harmless proteins called ‘allergens.’ Dogs and cats can be allergic to all kinds of things, but essentially there are 3 main types of allergies: flea allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies. Flea allergies and environmental allergies are significantly more common than food allergies.
Environmental allergy symptoms may be mild or severe and may present in a variety of ways. Allergic cats and allergic humans tend to get rhinitis (itchy, runny nose) and conjunctivitis (red itchy eyes). Dogs tend to get itchy skin, where often times the paws are especially affected, though they can also have red itchy eyes too. Environmental allergies tend to present seasonally from spring through fall.
Flea allergies are usually obvious because one, there are fleas and two, the rump is commonly affected with a characteristic hair loss pattern. Cats with flea allergies will often have ‘miliary dermatitis’ which causes them to get little scabs all over their body.
Food allergies behave a bit different than the other two types of allergies with regards to how the immune system is involved. So, often times veterinarians will say ‘food intolerance’ or ‘adverse food reaction’ instead of saying ‘food allergy’ to be more technically correct, but for practical purposes, we often just say ‘food allergy.’ Food allergies may involve the skin, but often there are also GI signs such as vomiting or diarrhea. Food allergies are much less common than flea and environmental allergies. Also, contrary to a popular belief when food allergies do happen it’s usually not the grain that’s the problem but instead it’s usually a protein found in chicken, beef or dairy products. So, for the most part, ‘grain-free’ diets are just a fad and usually of no medical benefit to our itchy pets.
For allergic humans, antihistamines like Benadryl or Zyrtec are helpful. Sometimes antihistamines are helpful with dogs and cats, but unfortunately, they usually are not and some other form of prescription medication is needed. At Balsam Animal Hospital we have a wide variety of prescription allergy medications and if you think your pet is suffering from allergies, please don’t hesitate to give us a call and we will work with you to find the right medication for your furry friend.