Pet allergies are one of the biggest reasons dog and cat owners visit their veterinarian.
Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to substances that are either ingested, inhaled or come in direct contact with the skin. The actual substance that causes the allergic reaction is called an antigen.
It helps to group antigens into three categories realizing that your pet may be allergic to materials from more than one category at the same time.
1. Things your pet eats (foods, additives, preservatives and dyes)
Research contends that one-third of all allergic reactions are triggered by food. Preservatives such as BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin are generally used to preserve the fat portions of animal diets. They have also been linked to allergies and cancer. Read the label on your pet’s food and select foods that use natural vitamin C and vitamin E for preserving the food.
Just like humans, cats and dogs can become allergic to many different food ingredients. When your pet exhibits an allergy that cannot be pinpointed, then a food allergy should be suspected. There are numerous tests that can isolate which food substances are causing the reaction. Grains often produce the most problems. Culprits include corn, wheat, rice and rye. Selecting a grain free diet for your pet not only has a biological benefit but, it may go a long way towards preventing allergic outbreaks in your pet.
2. Things your pet breathes (cigarette smoke, dust, pollens, perfumes, particles released from carpet underlays and substances that emit toxic fumes)
Remember, your pet breathes the air where these chemicals have been sprayed and allergic reactions can be severe. Sensitivity to environmental pollutants, pollen and stress can cause asthma attacks in pets especially cats.
3. Things your pet’s skin comes into contact with (dust mites, chemicals, soaps, wool etc.)
Lawn chemicals can be absorbed through the dog’s feet, and affect them systematically. There are several journal articles relating lymphosarcoma (cancer) to weed killers. If lawn chemicals must be used, it is important to keep your pet off the area for at least three days.
Cleaning solutions, especially in the dog’s living area or kennel, can be big offenders in activating allergies. Many are scented, which can add to the allergic reaction. It is recommended that plain bleach be used, mixed at a proper ratio with water for cleaning runs, kennels and crates.
Many pet shampoos contain irritating and immune-lowering ingredients, including lanolin and flea repellents. These agents can also be absorbed through the skin, and create more of a problem by coating the skin. The best shampoos to use are gentle, herbal-based or an oatmeal-based shampoo. A good home remedy for a dog with constant itchy skin is to put some sliced lemons in a gallon jar. Let it sit for a day or so, and use the solution as a rinse for your dog. This can often soothe the skin and stop the itching.
Flea Bites are the most common cause of pet allergies in both dogs and cats. Skin irritations, hot spots, hair loss and scratching that leads to superficial skin wounds are often caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva. Protecting your pet against fleas is one of the most effective ways to prevent skin allergies and hot spots.
Veterinary researchers and holistic veterinarians are becoming more aware of the effects of vaccinations on our pets. Often, dogs react to the suspension used in the vaccine. This can show up as itchy skin and hair loss. Some dogs react even more strongly to certain vaccines. They can develop hives on the skin, have difficulty in breathing, redness of the skin and even brain swelling. Always monitor your pet for at least two hours after a vaccination. Cancerous growths have also been found at the site of vaccinations, years after the shot was given. It is recommended to vary the site of the vaccination, and do not vaccinate next to the spine, such as between the front shoulders.
Note: Pet allergies are additive so that the more antigens your pet is exposed to, the more severe the symptoms.
Which Pets are at the Highest Risk for Allergies?
In a recent study of 30,000 dogs, the following were among the most likely to develop allergies: Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, English Setters, Irish Setters, Boston Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Fox Terriers, Sealyham Terriers, Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, and Wheaton Terriers. In addition, Bulldogs, Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Dachshunds, Dalmatians, Lhasa apsos, Miniature Schnauzers, Pugs, and the Shar Pei are prone to allergies.
Young and middle-aged pets have the greatest problem with allergies. Senior pets white blood cells are less efficient at storing and releasing histamine so that histamine-mediated allergic reactions decrease with age.
Symptoms in Dogs
Allergies can manifest themselves in a variety of symptoms. Most often in dogs, these symptoms are loss of hair coat, skin eruptions or rashes, foot licking, ear infections, itching and scratching, loss of hair around the eyes, flaky skin, oily skin and hot spots.
Symptoms in Cats
Symptoms in cats consist of tearing of the eyes, sneezing, scratching, paw chewing, ear infections, sneezing or snoring when the throat becomes inflamed.. While most veterinarians will prescribe drugs to stop the symptoms, they can flare up again once the medication is stopped. Feline food allergies can often result in vomiting and diarrhea.
Allergic reactions will require a visit to your veterinarian and possibly a dermatological specialist. After taking a complete history and conducting a physical examination, your veterinarian may determine the source of your pet’s allergic reaction using intradermal skin injections.
The only way to diagnose a food allergy is to feed your pet a prescription or hydrolyzed protein diet exclusively for 12 weeks – that means no flavored medications or treats. This diet will be free of potential allergy-causing ingredients and will ideally have ingredients your pet has never been exposed to before. Your dog or cat will remain on the diet until their symptoms go away, at which time you’ll begin to reintroduce old foods to see which ones might be causing the allergic reaction.
The best way to treat allergies is to remove the offending allergens from the environment no matter what their source is. When the source cannot be removed you veterinarian may prescribe some or all of the following:
- In the case of airborne pollens, cortisone or steroids to help control the itching and scratching, but the best way to manage airborne allergies is with allergy injections, which treat the allergy itself
- Antihistamines such as Benadryl can be used, but they work best preventatively, before your pet is exposed to the allergen
- Fatty acid supplements might help relieve your pet’s itchy skin
- There are many shampoos that may help prevent skin infection, which occurs commonly in pets with allergies
- There are several flea-prevention products that can be applied monthly to your pet
Prevention and Maintenance
Start a flea control program for all of your pets before the season starts. One outdoor pet can carry fleas back inside to other household pets.
Choose your pet’s bedding and litter box material carefully. Vacuum your pet’s area frequently to remove potential allergens.
Bathe your pet regularly as this may help relieve itching and remove environmental allergens and pollens from their skin. Talk to your veterinarian about which shampoos will work the best and how often to use them as frequent bathing can also dry the skin out.
Supplements that can help
Some supplements can help allergies by working with the immune system. They include:
Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids in therapeutic doses can act as an antihistamine. It is also felt that the bioflavonoids help the immune system work well with vitamin C.
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, and can have anti-inflammatory properties. It is also good to use topically for minor skin irritations.
Biotin, a B vitamin, helps fight allergies. Biotin can be given in supplemental form or through egg yolks, which are rich in Biotin.
Quercetin is another bioflavonoid that helps boost the immune system.
Sea Kelp contains selenium (an immune booster), B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc and biotin. They are great for hair growth and in maintaining healthy skin.
Yucca has cortisone properties without all the nasty side effects. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, which removes the itch and swelling.
The use of enzymes in the food is also important. They help break down and digest the food faster potentially making them less reactive.
This material is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. All specific treatment decisions must be made by you and your local, attending veterinarian.