Allergies in Pets

Dog Scratching FleaMany of us look forward to the warm spring weather after enduring the harsh winter months. The spring season brings peaceful fields of blooming flowers and a warm, inviting sun. Unfortunately, spring is also a time when many people suffer from allergies that can make daily life almost intolerable. Just like people, pets can suffer from pesky allergies too. It is important to know the signs of allergies in animals so you can alleviate any irritating sensations your pet may be experiencing.

Dr. Adam Patterson, clinical assistant professor and chief of dermatology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), defines an allergic reaction as the body overreacting to substances (like pollen) in the environment that are normally harmless. This hypersensitivity to the environment can exist seasonally or year-round in both people and animals.

While humans suffer through allergy season coughing and sneezing into a handful of tissues, pets deal with allergies differently. An animal’s common reaction to an allergy is observed as itch in specific body areas, which can result in skin irritations and infections.

“An itch may be manifested as licking, chewing, biting, rubbing, scratching, head shaking, and/or scooting,” Patterson said. “Common itchy body areas include the face, ears, paws, armpits, groin, rump, and anal region. Horses may present with an itchy skin disease and/or hives.”

Patterson further explains that every animal has a different reaction to allergies, just like people do.

“Every pet has its own itch tolerance, which means the intensity and reason(s) for your pet’s itch may not be the same as another animal,” he said. “Regardless of the animal, allergic patients are prone to bacterial and yeast infections that can cause skin discoloration, hair loss, pimples, scabs, and/or ear disease.”

According to Patterson, cats and horses can be affected by allergic skin disease. He says that any dog breed can be affected as well, but certain breeds—including terriers, retrievers, Dalmatians, Shar Peis, and bulldogs—are more susceptible.

If your pet shows any sign of an allergy, it is best to contact your veterinarian so they can properly diagnose the cause of itch, which may include allergy.. Your veterinarian can also perform tests to determine the most effective treatment plan to alleviate your pet’s discomfort. Allergens that most commonly irritate pets include fleas, food, pollen, molds, mites, insects, and dander.

“Treatments are tailored to the individual based on the extent, severity, and seasonality of signs,” Patterson said. “The ‘absolutes’ of therapy include routine bathing to remove pollen accumulation, infection control (topical and/or systemic anti-infectives), and flea prevention.”

Patterson also emphasizes to pet owners that allergies can be managed, but rarely cured. For pets that suffer from chronic allergies, treatments may include changes in diet, symptomatic medical therapy, and or allergy vaccines specific to the animal’s environmental sensitivity. Patterson reminds pet owners that indiscriminate use of long-term steroids can cause serious health issues.

However, if a pet’s allergies are left untreated, there can be other harmful effects. Dr. Alison Diesel, clinical assistant professor at the CVM, explains how your pet may suffer detrimental health problems without treatment.

“Allergies if left untreated/unmanaged can cause continued discomfort in your pet,” Diesel said. “Self-trauma to the skin can create wounds that can become secondarily infected. We occasionally see pets that have spent so much time itching and scratching that they are not sleeping well and may even lose weight…In more severe cases, a visit to a veterinary dermatologist may be quite helpful.”

Although many people suffer from allergies, many of us do not recognize that allergies are just as common in animals. If you think your pet may be afflicted with allergic skin disease, your veterinarian can begin the process of helping your pet enjoy both the indoors and outdoors again.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.