Every spring as the flowers begin to bloom and the wind shifts I can count on getting that itchy, watery-eyed, sneezy and scratchy feeling that says to anyone with allergies, “hay fever alert”. What I didn’t know until my vet told me, pets can get allergies like hay fever too. In fact, many of the most bothersome allergies found in humans (hay fever, food allergies, etc.) also show up in our closest animal companions such as dogs and cats.

Many things might cause a moderate to severe allergic reaction in your pet. This list includes things that don’t usually cause a strong reaction in humans such as fleas and common household chemicals. It’s always best to speak to a veterinarian and have your pet tested for specific allergies before starting treatment. But, here are some of the most common things that cause allergic reactions in domestic pets:

  • Fleas and flea control products (there are many species of flea and your pet might be allergic to one or all of them as well as one or more of the many products used to treat flea infestations).
  • Dust (inside of dust particles live microscopic insects called Dust Mites, which might cause an allergic reaction in your pet).
  • Dander (as some people are allergic to cats but not dogs, so your dog might be allergic to cats or vice versa).
  • Trees, grasses, weeds, mold spores and other pollens (as with humans, domestic pets can have allergic reactions to common airborne particles).
  • Cigarette smoke (smoke is unhealthy for everyone including our pets).
  • Food (common food allergies in pets include chicken, corn and wheat gluten).
  • Perfumes, colognes and other fragrances.
  • Household chemicals (cleaning and home repair products, prescription and over the counter medicines).
  • Fabrics (particularly synthetic fabrics, but also silk and wool).
  • Rubber and plastic (both people and animals can be allergic to many of the rubber and plastic items common in our homes and not be aware of it).

It’s important to remember that while pets may have many of the same reactions as people to allergies (itching and scratching, watery eyes and, sneezing and coughing), they may also react very differently than we normally would. Allergies can be as irritating, painful and even dangerous in pets as in humans and it’s as important to determine if the behavior of the pet is caused by allergies and if so, to treat it appropriately. Here are some of the most common things to look for if you suspect your pet is allergic to something:

  • Itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin
  • Increased, constant or obsessive scratching and\or licking
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Itchy back or base of tail (most commonly flea allergy)
  • Itchy ears and ear infections (most commonly ear mites)
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Snoring caused by inflamed sinus, nose or throat
  • Paw chewing/swollen paws

What do you do when you’ve observed unusual behavior in your pet? You reacted promptly, took your pet to the vet where you received a diagnosis of a specific allergy and perhaps, received some medication for the pet. This is the best thing you can do. It’s the only treatment in some situations such as environmental allergies, which you as the pet owner can’t control and especially in the case of severe flea allergy. But in many situations, there are things a pet owner can do to help your pet cope with the allergy and provide the pet some relief of the most bothersome symptoms.

  • For topical or airborne allergies such as dust, dander and fleas, keep the pet’s area, bedding, clothing, toys, anything the pet uses or anywhere the pet lies often, clean and as free of dust and dander as possible.
  • There are many over the counter and prescription treatments for fleas. Some are more effective than others are. It may take time and experimentation to find out which works best for your pet and in cases of severe flea allergy, it may be necessary to prescribe a particular medication for your pet’s specific allergy.
  • Bathing the pet more frequently, with a gentle shampoo, such as one with an oatmeal base, instead of a flea shampoo may relieve some of your pet’s skin irritation. Before increasing your pet’s bath frequency, check with your vet to make sure the revised bathing schedule won’t cause additional dry skin and scratching.
  • For food allergies, once the specific food allergen has been discovered, there are many commercially available pet foods with limited ingredients. However, many pet owners who have pets with food allergies choose to cook most or all of their pet’s food themselves. Cooked brown rice, lamb, sweet potatoes, green beans with additional supplements is one example of a diet for a dog with chicken and wheat gluten allergies.
  • There are many food supplements available over the counter such as omega-3 fatty acids and a B-vitamin called Biotin (B-6), which may boost the pet’s immune response.
  • Some over the counter human medicines are safe for some dogs and cats, but many of the things safe for dogs are not safe for cats and vice versa. Before giving your pet any human medication, consult your veterinarian.

None of us wants to see our pets suffer and as with any human or pet illness, allergies are complicated disorders that are often difficult to diagnose and treat. But with a little effort and in consultation with a good veterinarian, any pet with allergies can live a full, active and symptom-free life.

For information on allergies in pets, visit the ASPCA (http://www.aspca.org). Click for direct link to information on cats (http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/allergies.aspx) and dogs (http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/dog-care-allergies.aspx).