Most allergic reactions in pets manifest as a problem in the skin.
Just like people, pets may be afflicted with allergies. According to Dr. Gary Brummet, a primary care veterinarian at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the University of Illinois in Urbana, pets’ allergies most commonly arise from environmental allergens, such as pollen, mold spores, house dust, and mites.
“The pet’s immune system overreacts to something that is otherwise considered innocuous,” explains Dr. Brummet. “The pet may not have a reaction the on the first encounter, yet when exposed a second and subsequent times, the immune system can mount an inappropriately strong response.”
Some breeds are predisposed to allergies. In dogs, these include Westies, Labrador retrievers, Dalmatians, golden retrievers and boxers. However, any dog, regardless of breed, may develop allergies. Most allergies are seen in younger dogs between 6 months and four years of age. There are no particular cat breeds that appear to have a predisposition to allergens.
In addition to environmental allergens, allergic reactions in animals may be caused by food allergies, fungi, and parasites, such as fleas and mites.
How can a pet owner know if their pet has an allergy to something? Dr. Brummet explains that most allergic reactions in pets manifest as a problem in the skin. Animals can have an immediate reaction, with signs including facial swelling, hives or bumps on the skin. Animals with allergies commonly itch and lick their paws, and redness as well as skin lesions may be seen.
A veterinarian can determine the cause of the allergy so appropriate treatment can be given to relieve the symptoms. “Diagnosis of an environmental allergy is based on a detailed history as well as serum or skin testing,” states Dr. Brummet. “These procedures will give the veterinarian information on what the pet is in contact with and if its environment is causing the reaction.”
Currently there is no good test for food allergies. To rule out a food allergy, the veterinarian can prescribe a strict hypoallergenic diet. These special diets contain carbohydrates and protein that are not common in commercial diets, such as duck, lamb and kangaroo meat. The prescription diet is recommended for a trial period of 8 weeks to see if the change in food brings about any improvement.
Treatment of an environmental allergen can involve allergy shots that are tailored to what the pet is specifically allergic to. If the allergen is parasitic in nature (fleas or mites), then treatment involves eliminating the parasite.
Dr. Brummet explains that avoiding allergic triggers may be difficult, especially if you are unsure of what the animal is reacting to. Special filters may be helpful in reducing house dust and allergens in the air. Bathing may also be beneficial to the pet if there is something on the skin that is causing discomfort.
Dr. Brummet recommends taking a pet to the veterinarian if an allergy is suspected so the pet can have relief from discomfort that allergies can bring.
For more information about allergies in pets, speak with your veterinarian.
By Sarah Netherton