Beagle itching with hind leg while outsideIf your pet always seems to be itching or chewing on their paws, back, or ears, they probably have pet allergies. In fact, according to pet insurance companies, pet allergies are the number one reason that pet owners seek veterinary care. Luckily, pet allergies can be diagnosed and treated. Here’s what you need to know to help your pet find relief.

The Basics of Pet Allergies

There are three main allergies that pets experience, and some have a combination of one or more. Here are the basics of each:

Flea allergies – Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) occurs when a pet is allergic to flea saliva. Even one flea bite can trigger an allergic response that sends your pet’s immune system into chaos. Pets with this condition typically itch on the back half of their body, around the base of the tail.

Environmental pet allergies – Dust, pollen, dander and mold are environmental allergens. Allergies to these substances typically start occurring only during certain times of the year, depending on climate and what’s in bloom, but often progress into year-round symptoms. We sometimes refer to this type of allergy as Atopic Dermatitis.

Food-related pet allergies – Some pets are allergic to ingredients in pet food. Most of the allergens are protein-related, however, your pet can develop sensitivity to any of the ingredients in his or her food. Pets with food allergies typically experience itchiness all year long, and some may also show gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Diagnosis and Treatment

There are a few main factors when it comes to diagnosing pet allergies:

History – An accurate account of your pet’s symptoms and behavior at home can set us on the right path toward a diagnosis.

Physical exam – We perform a thorough exam to look for any clues. Flea dirt and crusty skin can give us good information, as can studying which areas of the body your pet scratches and chews.

Testing – If we can’t find the cause of itching with a physical exam, we’ll recommend diagnostic testing to look for other causes of itching, besides allergies. We may do skin scrapings and skin cytology to look for overgrowth of bacteria, yeast, and for parasites, such as mites that cause mange.

For environmental allergies, dogs and cats can also be tested for reactions to specific allergens. An allergy shot protocol (this is sometimes called de-sensitization or immunotherapy,) can then be formulated to reduce future allergic symptoms. In many cases, allergy shots can help but they take time to become effective, often 6 months to 1 year, and they must be given for the rest of the pet’s life in most cases. Immunotherapy can also be administered via drops under the tongue, rather than by injection.

Medications – If the allergy is environmental, there’s no human intervention that can eliminate the problem altogether in most cases. We typically use a combination of medications and topical treatments to help manage your pet’s symptoms and discomfort.

Process of elimination – Sometimes, we arrive at a diagnosis through process of elimination. For FAD, that means a comprehensive flea control program. For food allergies, that can mean starting your pet on a limited ingredient or novel protein diet to see if their allergies improve. It can take up to 12 weeks to eliminate all signs of the allergy before we add back one ingredient at a time to determine the cause of the problem.

We hope this has given you a basic understanding of pet allergies and options for diagnostics and treatment. At Redwood Veterinary Hospital, your pet’s health and comfort are our top priorities. If your pet is itchy, please call us to schedule an appointment. Together, we can help your pet feel their best!