Allergies In Cats And Dogs


As a pet owner, you play a vital role in managing your pet's allergies. Recognizing common signs such as sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, and itching is the first step. Similar to humans, pets experience allergies when their immune system overreacts to a harmless substance, treating it as a threat. By understanding and addressing these symptoms, you can help your pet live a comfortable and healthy life.

Types Of Allergies

Allergic reactions can be triggered by almost anything, but they typically fall into the main categories:

Flea Allergy

Cats and dogs can develop allergies to flea saliva, which is injected into their skin during a bite. This is the most common type of allergy. In cats, it often leads to excessive grooming; in dogs, it results in scratching and nibbling. The skin may develop tiny red spots known as papules, and in cats, these can become widespread crusts, a condition called miliary dermatitis.

Food Allergy

Food allergies can develop in cats and dogs even if they have been eating the same diet for a long time. These allergies occur when the pet's immune system reacts to a specific protein or food additive, often resulting in skin issues. Common allergens include proteins like chicken, fish, gluten, and eggs. Cats with food allergies usually scratch around their heads and necks, while dogs may show increased overall itching beyond what is typical.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is an allergic reaction to environmental allergens, similar to hay fever or asthma in humans. These allergens, like pollen, can be seasonal or present year-round, such as dust mites. Pets with seasonal atopic dermatitis only show symptoms when the allergen is prevalent. Cats and dogs with this condition may scratch their bodies, lick and chew their paws, and rub their faces.

Environmental Allergies

Like humans with hay fever, animals can also be allergic to airborne substances. Common environmental allergens include pollen, cut grass, dust, mold, and mildew, which can be more troublesome during specific seasons, such as pollen in the spring. Additionally, non-natural allergens like perfume, cigarette smoke, and dust from kitty litter can cause allergic reactions in pets.

Contact Allergies

Contact allergies occur when a substance comes into direct contact with your pet. Though less common, these reactions can still be unpleasant and are usually localized to the area of contact. Potential contact allergens include:

  • Medicated Products: Some pets may be sensitive to ingredients in common parasite treatments.
  • Cleaning Products: Be mindful of the cleaning products used on surfaces your pet touches, especially those used to wash their bedding. Even pet-specific products like shampoos can cause allergies in some animals.
  • Plastic and Rubber: Pets can be allergic to materials in their food bowls; consider using glass or ceramic alternatives.
  • Fabrics: Natural fabrics like wool and feathers can also cause allergic reactions.

Allergy Complications

Allergies cause ongoing distress and discomfort to your pet and can lead to further health issues. Environmental allergens may result in bronchitis, sinus infections, or asthma. Sinus infections need professional treatment and should not be managed with over-the-counter medications. In cats, the coughing associated with asthma and bronchitis can resemble hairball coughing, so owners need to monitor for regular and persistent coughing.

Skin irritation from allergic reactions can lead to hot spots, which occur when an animal repeatedly scratches, licks, or bites a specific area. Bacteria can enter the broken skin, causing an infection that results in painful, hot skin, open sores, and hair loss. These hot spots won't heal independently and require proper treatment to resolve the infection and break the cycle of itching and irritation.

The Bottom Line

Diagnosing allergies in pets is a complex and meticulous process due to the multitude of potential allergens. Whether it's food, environmental, or contact allergies, identifying the cause requires careful observation and testing. An elimination diet can help pinpoint food allergies, while blood and skin tests can identify environmental and contact allergens. Proper diagnosis and management are crucial for alleviating your pet's discomfort and ensuring their overall well-being. Always consult your vet for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plans tailored to your pet's needs.


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