You are likely familiar with humans’ common allergy signs, such as sneezing, sore throat, congestion, and watery eyes, but you may be unable to recognize your pet’s allergy signs, because they are dissimilar.

You may believe your dog’s all-night scratching or your cat’s sudden hair pulling are grooming issues, but these signs may be a cry for allergy relief. If your pet has been incessantly scratching, schedule an appointment at Colony Veterinary Hospital, so our veterinary professionals can determine the cause. Your pet may be suffering from allergies.

Sensitive side—defining pets’ allergies

Allergies are physiological reactions indicating that your pet is sensitive to a particular environmental substance (i.e., allergen). They may encounter the allergen through breathing, eating, or direct contact (e.g., a chemically treated surface, an insect bite, a new collar).

Airborne, dietary, and environmental substances do not usually trigger an allergic reaction, but an allergic pet’s immune system perceives these substances as a threat. Upon exposure, the immune system launches an allergic response that includes histamine release, causing irritated skin, itching, and inflammation. 

Anything and everything—pet allergens

Like us, pets can be allergic to any natural and artificial substances. Allergy specialists classify pet allergens by source (e.g., food, environment) or transmission (e.g., direct contact, inhalation), categorizing them as:

  • Environmental (i.e., inhalant) — Airborne allergens include pollen, grasses, weeds, mold, dust, and mildew. 
  • Food — Pets may react to their foods’ proteins—and less frequently to the food’s carbohydrates.
  • Flea — Dogs and cats may be allergic to a flea saliva protein. If a flea bites an allergic pet, they experience an intense hypersensitivity reaction. 
  • Contact — Many pets have allergic reactions after direct physical contact with an irritant such as a chemically treated fabric or wearable product (e.g., flea collar). 

This clear categorization may lead you to believe that allergy diagnosis is straightforward, but your pet may be allergic to more than one substance or have multiple allergy types, which makes diagnosis challenging, but necessary, for ensuring your pet’s health and comfort. 

The great pretender—pets’ common allergy presentations

While humans’ allergies are most often expressed as upper respiratory tract conditions and less frequently as skin conditions (e.g., bug bites, rashes), pets’ allergies usually manifest through their skin, digestive tract, or respiratory system.

Early identification of your pet’s allergy signs can help your veterinarian more quickly and accurately diagnose your pet’s condition, ending unnecessary pet discomfort and preventing allergy-related complications.

  •  Skin irritation signs — Pets most commonly express allergies through their skin, with signs that masquerade as dermatological conditions, such as dry skin, chronic ear infections, and hair loss. Pruritus (i.e., itching) can be limited to one body area or generalized, covering your pet’s entire body.  Your pet’s scratching, biting, and licking create the perfect environment for secondary bacterial infections, sores, and further inflammation.

Skin irritation occurs in response to environmental, food, and flea-bite allergens. To relieve your pet’s skin irritation, your veterinarian must identify the allergen type to prescribe targeted and effective treatment. Your pet’s skin irritation signs may include:

    • Intense scratching, biting, or licking
    • Hair loss, or patchy bald spots
    • Hot spots
    • Recurring ear infections
    • Unusual odor
    • Greasy, dry, or flaky coat
    • Visible wounds, crusting, or irritation
    • Frequent face, head, or body rubbing on carpets or furniture
  • Digestive signs — Food allergies can cause pets digestive distress and discomfort. Owners may see their pets expressing intermittent or persistent gastrointestinal signs such as:
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Flatulence
    • Gastrointestinal “noise” (e.g., gurgling or growling)
    • Weight loss

Because these pets simply do not feel well, they may also show more subtle behavior-related signs such as personality or energy-level changes. Pets with food allergies may associate their food with their clinical signs, refusing to eat, although some pets show no appetite change. 

  • Respiratory signs — Some pets do experience respiratory signs similar to their owners’ signs. Pets’ upper respiratory signs are less common than skin-related signs, and are more common in cats than in dogs. Respiratory signs may include:
    • Sneezing or wheezing
    • Increased respiratory effort
    • Coughing
    • Watery nasal or yellow or green eye discharge 

Respiratory signs usually indicate seasonal allergies, and you may notice your pet’s signs worsening in the spring and summer, and improving in the fall and winter.

Help for your allergic pet

If your pet is experiencing allergy-related signs, their relief is the Colony Veterinary Hospital team’s priority. We will begin by giving your pet a complete physical examination, and asking you specific questions about your pet’s signs, behavior, diet, including  treats, and current medication, including parasite preventives. Our veterinary team will examine your pet for visible irritation (e.g., skin redness, hair loss, flea dirt, bacterial or fungal infections). They may recommend diagnostic testing to rule out other causes for your pet’s signs and to help identify their specific allergen(s). These tests may include:

  • Skin scraping
  • Cytology
  • Bacterial or fungal culture
  • Blood work
  • Urinalysis
  • Veterinary dermatologist referral

Pets’ allergies are lifelong, and cannot be cured. However, through prompt diagnosis and diligent care, our veterinarians can effectively manage your pet’s clinical signs and discomfort, allowing them to live a long and comfortable life. If you are itching for answers to your pet’s incessant scratching, schedule an appointment at Colony Veterinary Hospital, so we can help them get relief.