People and pets alike are affected by allergies. It’s important for every pet parent to know how to spot the symptoms of allergies and how to treat them. Plus, get tips on what to do if you think you or a member of your household are allergic to pets.
Allergies in Pets
Allergies in pets are caused the same as way allergies in people – when their immune systems mistake substances in the environment to be harmful and try to fight them off.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®), 20 percent of pets may suffer from an allergy.* Your pet could be allergic to things like pollen, dust, mold, smoke, dander, grass, perfume, and certain foods or ingredients.
Dog allergy symptoms and cat allergy symptoms present themselves in a similar fashion. If you think your pal may have a sensitivity, keep an eye out for the following pet allergy symptoms:
- Excessive itching and scabby skin
- Red, watery, or crusty eyes
- Sneezing and wheezing
- Constant licking
- Swollen pads
- Paw chewing
- Vomiting and diarrhea (associated with food allergies)
Contact allergies can be diagnosed using a blood sample or by performing an intradermal skin test. If the veterinarian you visit for allergy testing decides to take a blood sample, it will be tested in a laboratory for a reaction against different allergens. Your veterinarian may recommend a veterinary dermatologist to do the intradermal skin testing, but some veterinarians will perform the testing in their clinic.
An intradermal skin test is when a small amount of various antigens, toxins that induce an immune system response, are injected into the skin to see if they cause a reaction. A skin reaction caused by one of the injected antigens would appear as a small, reddish bump, resembling a mosquito bite. This allergy test for pets is similarly performed on humans, so you can rest assured it is safe.
Food allergies are sometimes diagnosed using a blood sample, but usually, veterinarians will recommend an elimination diet to determine what substance is causing a reaction. This may include a switch to a prescription or hydrolyzed protein food, which do not contain any allergy-triggering ingredients.
The elimination diet should be followed until your pet’s symptoms go away completely. If your veterinarian prescribes an elimination diet, it is critical that you do feed only the recommended diet. Even a small treat could change the outcome of the diet.
Once your dog or cat is no longer having flare-ups, your veterinarian may recommend slowly reintroducing foods that were previously part of their diet to see if any of them cause the symptoms to come back. Then, bingo! You’ll know exactly which food to avoid.
The best treatment for your pet’s allergies depends on what is causing them. If your pet’s flare-ups come from airborne allergens, your vet will likely recommend allergy shots to help your pet build up resistance to the allergens. Special shampoos and sprays containing aloe, oatmeal, and other skin-soothing ingredients may also control the itch.
Keeping a dust-free home can help alleviate symptoms of allergies caused by dust, dander, pollen, or other outdoor allergens. Regularly bathing your pet can also really help ease the itchy-scratchies. It will clear the irritating particles away from your pet’s skin to prevent reactions.
A prescription shampoo from your veterinarian may come in handy for frequent baths. The excessive shampooing can further dry out and aggravate your pet’s skin, so you’ll want something that won’t strip away the natural moisture.
Veterinarians may suggest certain bagged or canned foods for pets with food allergies that don’t contain the ingredients inducing their flare-ups. In some instances, it may be advised to feed home-cooked meals to pets with food allergies.
A pet insurance plan can help cover the cost of allergy testing and treatment, in addition to helping you afford veterinary care for many other pet health concerns. Get a pet insurance quote.
Pet Allergies in People
Are you or a member of your household experiencing allergy symptoms around your pet? A pet's hair, dander, and saliva can cause allergic reactions in humans, but something concentrated in the pet’s fur, like dust or pollen, may also be at the root of the problem.
Seeing a doctor for allergy testing is the only way to determine if it’s the pet or particles in the pet’s fur causing you or a family member to have a reaction.
Regularly bathing a pet may help keep the allergens out of their fur. Preventative methods, like allergy medications, regular housecleaning, or limited interaction between the afflicted individual and your pet, may help alleviate mild to moderate reactions to the pet itself.
Try these additional tips to love your pet without the itching and sneezing:
- Keep your pet well-groomed.
Fewer loose hairs on their back mean fewer hairs on your carpet and floating through the air in your home. Giving your pet baths at least once a week can also help rid their fur of dander, one of their natural allergens.
- Vacuum and sweep often.
A good once-over will remove dander and fur from your floors and prevent it from getting swept up into the air in your home. You can find special vacuum cleaners for picking up pet hair at most large retail stores.
- Wash your hands.
Periodically scrubbing up throughout the day will help prevent pet allergens from coming into contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Ask your doctor about medication.
Your physician can give recommendations for over-the-counter antihistamines or cream containing cortisone on itchy areas. They can also prescribe stronger medication if the problem persists, as well as administer regular allergy shots.
The ASPCA® offers great advice on how to handle pet allergies in your home. Also, did you know pets can actually help protect kids from developing allergies?+ Learn more about why kids and pets make a perfect pairing.
Considering a furry addition to your family? If you or one of your human family members have pet allergies, you might want to look into breeds that shed less.
Lightly-shedding dogs and cats may produce fewer allergens. But, since the proteins found in dog and cat hair that trigger allergic reactions are also found in their saliva and skin, hypoallergenic pets can still cause a reaction for some people.
Here are a few hypoallergenic breeds could make great companions for those affected by heavy shedding:
- Bedlington Terrier
- Bichon Frise
- Chinese Crested
- Irish Water Spaniel
- Kerry Blue Terrier
- Devon Rex
- Colorpointed Shorthair
Notice a pattern in the listed breeds? That’s because most pets considered to be hypoallergenic either have curly, coarse coats or are pretty much hairless. Another factor that might help a breed make a hypoallergenic pet list is having a lower level of protein in the fur. It’s good to keep all these things in mind during your search for a new companion if allergens are a concern.
+TIME. “Researchers Reveal the Microscopic Reasons Why Pets Protect Against Allergies.” time.com. <http://healthland.time.com/2013/12/16/researchers-reveal-the-microscopic-reasons-why-pets-protect-against-allergies/>.