July 6, 2020

Medical Issues

Allergies in Pets (Part 1)

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

Just like people, pets can also get allergies. In fact, allergies in pets are a very common problem and can be very frustrating to treat. Today, I will explain a little more about what allergies are, the different allergies pets can get, and some symptoms of allergies in pets.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is a hypersensitivity or over-reaction of the body’s immune system to something particular (an allergen). Those particular allergens may include food, fur, pollen, dust, insects, fabrics, cleaners, and more.

What kind of allergies do pets get?

There are a few main categories of allergy types that might affect your pet. I will break down those categories briefly.

Inhalant allergens

These allergens include things such as grass, weeds, tree pollens, and molds. These allergens typically cause seasonal allergies, which means that they only occur at a particular time of year. For example, grass and some tree pollen allergies typically occur in early spring (April-June) when the grass is starting to grow and tress are usually budding. Weed pollen allergies more commonly occur in late summer and early fall (August-October). Inhalant allergies generally cause itchy skin and or respiratory symptoms like coughing or sneezing.

Food allergens

Food allergens are things that your pet is eating in his diet. With pets, the most common food allergens are corn, wheat, soy, and dairy. However, it is important to remember that any protein or grain food product can cause an allergic reaction. All it takes to cause a food allergy reaction in your pet is a dime-sized portion of an allergen. That’s not very much when you think about it! But this tiny amount can cause a big problem for your pet! Food allergies generally cause itchy skin, chronic ear infections, and possibly upset stomach or digestive issues.

Environmental and contact allergens

These allergens include things that may be in your pet’s environment. Consider items such as different types of fabrics, cleaning chemicals, lawn fertilizers, and even insects! Anything your pet touches could be a potential source of irritation. These allergens can sometimes be very difficult to identify and get rid of completely. For example, if your pet is allergic to cotton fiber, think about all the things that have some amount of cotton in them! Cotton fibers may be present in your carpets, the sheets, and even your own clothing. Environmental allergies can cause sudden reactions such as hives, diarrhea, coughing, and sneezing.

What are some signs that my pet may have an allergy?

Allergies in pets usually show up as skin problems, respiratory problems, and/or digestive problems. Your pet may experience problems in all three categories, but most pets with allergies seem to have one specific type of reaction.

For pets, the most common allergy symptom is itching! This itching can be one particular spot or it may be all over their bodies. Some other common symptoms of allergies include:

  • hair loss
  • hot spots
  • eye discharge
  • drainage from the nose
  • red skin
  • sneezing
  • wheezing
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • anal gland problems
  • chronic ear infections
  • hives
  • increased gas (burping or farting)
  • food intolerance
  • behavior changes

Allergies can be a complicated and frustrating condition for people and for pets. Now that you know a little more about allergies in pets, stay tuned for the second portion of this blog. In the next part of this blog, I will discuss testing and treatment options available for pets with allergies. Although allergies in pets (just like in people) cannot be cured completely, there are ways that you and your veterinarian can work together to help your pet feel much better!

Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.