Can dogs or cats have allergies?
Ahh, spring. The flowers are blooming. The sun is shining. And puffy clouds of pollen drift through the air, accompanied by a chorus of sneezing and wheezing. Allergies can really put a damper on one of the most beautiful times of the year and your pet might be suffering right alongside you. That's right, pets can experience seasonal allergies—and that's not the only allergy they can develop!
Here, we explore the types of allergies your pet might have, allergy symptoms in dogs and cats, and why you should see a veterinarian as soon as possible if you suspect an allergy.
Types of allergies in cats and dogs.
Allergies are among the most common reasons pet parents bring their cat or dog to the veterinarian. They occur when the pet's immune system overreacts to an allergen, usually with inflammation and severe itching. The itching might be so intense that it damages the skin's natural barriers, making it more susceptible to infection.
An allergen might be pollen, an ingredient in pet food, dander, shampoos, dust, fleas…the list goes on. Sometimes pets experience a reaction to multiple allergens, making the underlying cause especially difficult to uncover.
The variety of allergies in pets is nearly as broad as that in humans. Environmental allergies are the most common, while contact allergies are the rarest. Here's an overview of the types of allergies pets may develop.
This accounts for roughly 60% of the allergy cases we see at veterinary clinics. Things like pollen, dust, or mold might trigger an environmental allergy. Humans typically react to these types of allergens with sneezing or coughing; in pets, it often manifests as atopy (a fancy word for severe, localized itching). Occasionally, they will also develop upper respiratory symptoms, like sneezing or nasal/eye discharge.
- Anti-Itch Medications - This is typically the first line of defense against irritating allergies. Apoquel and Cyntpoint are medications that block the pathway through which allergens cause inflammation, resulting in less itching.
- Corticosteroids - Steroids reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system.
- Antihistamines & Fatty Acids - Some pets have a positive response to antihistamines, although they don't work for every pet. It often takes more than a week for an antihistamine to activate. Fatty acids also take a while to become activated, but your veterinarian might recommend a fish oil supplement to reduce future flare-ups.
- Immunotherapy - This process involves antigen injections or allergy shots after an intradermal skin test or blood test has been conducted to determine the specific source of the allergy. The hope is to retrain the pet's immune system. Although not a one-size-fits-all solution, it may help reduce your pet's allergic reactions.
Another allergic reaction is to flea bites, which can be particularly severe in some cats. This is because of antigens found in the flea saliva which cause intense itching. Dogs and cats with a flea sensitivity may excessively bite or scratch the affected area, resulting in patchy fur and inflamed skin. Fleas are particularly active in the warmer months (and apparently love San Diego as the weather is nice year-round!).
- Strict Flea Control - For animals who are sensitive to flea bites, strict avoidance of fleas is necessary to avoid an allergic reaction. Your veterinarian can recommend flea-control products and preventative measures to take.
- Corticosteroids - If a flea bite does result in an allergic reaction, anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids or cortisone may be used to bring the pet relief. There may also be a bacterial infection on the skin from scratching, which can be treated with antibiotics.
Dogs and cats may develop an allergic sensitivity to any ingredient in their food, such as chicken or beef, corn, wheat, and food additives or preservatives. This type of allergy can develop at any age, and may cause atopy, upper respiratory issues, and/or digestive problems.
- Elimination or Hypoallergenic Diet - This involves feeding your pet a strict veterinarian-prescribed diet to uncover the offending ingredient. This special diet is eaten exclusively for several months, with close monitoring of symptoms.
This is the rarest type of allergy in pets and results from a cat or dog coming into direct contact with an allergen. The allergen in these cases can include chemicals (such as pyrethins found in flea collars), pesticides, synthetic materials, and more. It frequently causes itching and irritation wherever your pet's body comes in contact with the allergen.
- Removal of Allergen - Removing the allergen from the pet's environment typically resolves symptoms quickly.
Don't try to diagnose your pet's allergies alone.
As mentioned before, your pet may have multiple sensitivities simultaneously. Working closely with a veterinarian (and discussing your pet's health record) can determine the most likely culprits. Moreover, the veterinarian may investigate other underlying conditions that have very similar symptoms to an allergic reaction, as it's crucial to eliminate other conditions before moving forward with allergy treatment.
Seeing a Fear Free veterinarian can make any pet feel safer, even when allergies are making them feel especially irritable or uncomfortable. Compassionate, knowledgeable care is foundational to successful allergy treatment.