Allergies in pets typically manifest as extreme itchiness, as opposed to respiratory signs. Pets can suffer from several allergy types, but many can be managed and potentially avoided. Our team at Wales Animal Clinic wants to provide information about pet allergies, to help you know if your pet is affected.

Flea allergies in pets

Flea bite dermatitis is one of the most common skin diseases diagnosed in pets. A tiny flea can ingest up to 15 times their own body weight in blood. They secrete saliva when they bite your pet to take their meal, and the pet’s allergic reaction is their response to a protein in the flea’s saliva. 

  • Signs — The most common sign seen in pets affected by a flea allergy is obsessive scratching. Pets may also chew, lick, and rub excessively as they attempt to rid themselves of the annoying parasite. The aggressive grooming can result in skin excoriations and hair loss on the lower back, thighs, abdomen, head, and neck. Red, crusty bumps that indicate secondary bacterial infections may also appear in these areas.
  • Diagnosis — Diagnosis is made by finding a flea on a pet exhibiting extreme itchiness. Fleas are small, brown, wingless insects that can be seen in your pet’s coat, although the pet’s excessive grooming induced by discomfort can result in them removing the fleas. This means that your pet’s coat and bedding should also be evaluated for flea dirt (i.e., flea feces).
  • Treatment — All fleas must be removed from your pet’s coat and from their environment for signs to resolve. This involves bathing your pet to kill the fleas, using a flea comb to remove the fleas from their coat, and administering a flea and tick prevention medication. In addition, you should launder or dispose of your pet’s bedding, and treat any home or yard area where your pet rests. Use a high powered vacuum, plus insecticides, to eradicate the fleas in your home.
  • Prevention — Flea allergy dermatitis can be prevented by administering year-round flea and tick medication. 

Environmental allergies in pets

Pets can also be allergic to environmental allergens, such as pollens, molds, dust particles, and pet dander. This condition, called atopic dermatitis, occurs when these airborne allergens enter the skin through a defective skin barrier and cause inflammation. 

  • Signs — Atopic dermatitis causes excessive itchiness that is usually seasonal. The signs typically appear early, between 1 and 3 years of age, and usually involve areas such as the feet and ear flaps. Chronic or recurring yeast infections that involve the skin and ears are also a common finding.
  • Diagnosis — A tentative atopy diagnosis can typically be made based on a pet’s history and clinical signs, and after ruling out other causes of itching, such as parasites. However, since different pets are sensitive to different allergens, allergy testing must be performed to determine the specific substances a pet is allergic to. Allergy testing involves injecting multiple substances into a pet’s skin in a grid-like pattern to determine which allergens cause a reaction. 
  • Treatment — Secondary yeast and bacterial infections must be resolved so they don’t exacerbate the pet’s distress. Steroids and anti-itch medications are commonly used to address the extreme inflammatory response, but steroids shouldn’t be used long-term, since they can lead to serious side effects, such as immune suppression. Frequent bathing can remove the allergens from your pet’s skin, and provide some relief. Allergy shots, also known as allergen specific immunotherapy, are the treatment of choice for atopic dermatitis, and involve injecting the pet with a small amount of allergen on a regular basis, gradually increasing the dose over time to desensitize them to the allergen. 
  • Prevention — Unfortunately, atopic dermatitis is not preventable.

Food allergies in pets

Pets can develop allergies to ingredients in their food, most commonly protein sources. The pet’s immune system misidentifies the ingredient as an invader rather than a food, and mounts an immune response.

  • Signs — Food allergies most commonly manifest as itchy skin and ear infections, but vomiting and diarrhea are also possible.
  • Diagnosis — Diagnosing a food allergy requires a strict dietary elimination trial. The diet must be novel to your pet, which can be accomplished by feeding a diet with a protein they have never eaten, or a hydrolyzed diet in which the protein has been broken down to a small size that the body doesn’t recognize as a problem. Your pet must eat this diet for at least six to eight weeks, and have no ingredients from their previous diet, including treats and medicated chews, during this time. If your pet’s signs resolve on the new diet, this suggests they have a food allergy, and they should return to their previous diet to confirm this suspicion. If their signs return, a food allergy is diagnosed. Then, to determine the ingredient causing your pet’s allergic reaction, they must eat the test diet again until their signs fully resolve, when they can be challenged with each ingredient separately, to find what causes their reaction.
  • Treatment — Treatment involves ensuring your pet never eats the ingredient that causes their allergic reaction. 
  • Prevention — Food allergies can’t be prevented, but once diagnosed, you can help prevent relapses by ensuring your pet does not eat the ingredient that causes them to react.

Pet allergies are problematic, but finding the right diagnosis can help manage the condition effectively. If your pet is obsessively itchy, contact our team at Wales Animal Clinic so we can help them find relief.