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Pets and Allergies

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It’s the middle of the night and you can’t sleep. Your dog is keeping you awake with their constant scratching and licking. Pets, like their humans, can suffer from allergies. Dog and cat allergies can be tricky to diagnose, but the most common sign is itching. Human allergy symptoms usually involve a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. Pet allergies look a lot different and include symptoms like excessive licking, chewing, scratching, head shaking, ear infections, skin infection or rash, and/or anal gland issues.

Flea allergy dermatitis or flea bite sensitivity is the most common allergy in dogs and a major cause of skin issues in cats. Dogs that are allergic to flea bites often will develop hair loss on their back and rear legs, redness of the skin, rash, and moderate to intense itching. The severity of the reaction can vary based on how allergic the dog is to flea bites. Cats will itch, develop scabs around their neck, face, and down their backs, and can have areas of hair loss. Flea bite allergies are easily managed with good flea prevention and control.

Your pet may be allergic to something in their environment. Dust mites, pollen, certain plants or trees, or even items in your home may cause them to react. Sometimes their allergies are worse in certain seasons. Other times it may be related to a household furnishing or even another animal. If an environmental allergy is suspected, your veterinarian will likely begin by asking a lot of questions. Are the symptoms worse during a particular time of year or season? How does your dog react? Have you remodeled your house, replaced your carpet, given your dog a new blanket, chemically treated your lawn, or planted new bushes? Looking for patterns can help your veterinarian figure out if environmental allergies are the cause of your pet’s symptoms.

Food allergies are not as common in pets but do occur. Food allergies are triggered by proteins in your pet’s diet. These proteins can be meat or plant-based. If your veterinarian suspects a food allergy, they will likely suggest altering your pet’s diet. Veterinarians usually start with the most common food allergens and work over a several-week elimination program in the effort to isolate the food or foods your pet is allergic to. A typical food allergy diet trial is 8-12 weeks of just the recommended diet – either a novel protein/limited ingredient diet or a hypoallergenic prescription diet. There are a variety of diets available for specific allergies for pets now. Your veterinarian will ensure that whichever is chosen for your pet not only addresses the allergy but is also nutritionally sound and appropriate for their individual needs.

When you take your pet to the veterinarian, they will likely begin by checking for the most common causes of the itching and scratching – fleas, mites and infections. These cases are usually easy to resolve with proper treatment. If your veterinarian feels that your pet is suffering from an allergy, they will recommend treatment and discuss options for further diagnosing and managing your pet’s allergies. Allergy testing is a great way to help diagnose what your pet is allergic to. It involves sending a small amount of blood to the lab and can test for environmental and food allergies. This information can help you and your veterinarian confirm what your pet is allergic to, pick the best diet if food allergies are involved, and formulate the best plan to manage your pet’s allergies. Some pets can be managed on medication, while others with more severe allergies may benefit from immunotherapy or allergy shots to desensitize their immune system to what they are allergic to. When an appropriate treatment plan is in place, there is a huge sense of relief shared by both you and your pet.

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