Spring has sprung. For some people, that means itchy, watery, red eyes, as well as sniffling and sneezing. Pets can have allergies, too, but they show different symptoms that can be hard to spot. Here are some facts about allergies in pets and how you can help your furry friend this spring.

Symptoms of allergies

Allergies are caused when an overactive immune system reacts abnormally. An allergen is a substance that normally doesn’t cause a reaction, but is seen by the overactive immune system as a dangerous invader. The symptoms result from this over-reaction. Like humans, animals have a wide range of potential allergens. In dogs and cats, allergy symptoms include:

  • Itching, most commonly on the feet, face, ears, legs, and belly
  • Licking or chewing the feet and legs
  • Rubbing the eyes and face
  • Redness or swelling, especially around the ears and toesEar infection
  • Hair loss
  • Skin scaling (dandruff)

Food allergies

Food allergies in pets are not as common as environmental allergies. Only 10 percent of all dogs with allergies have a food allergy, and allergies to proteins are the most common, including:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Fish (in cats)

Onset of food allergies is unpredictable. Diagnosis and treatment involves a special diet that does not contain any previously fed ingredients. Your pet is prescribed the diet, and she must not eat anything else for at least three months. Once her itching stops, food challenges, where one ingredient is reintroduced to see if it causes a reaction, can begin. Avoiding an allergen can completely control the symptoms for the rest of the pet’s life.

Most dogs and cats are not allergic to wheat, corn, or other grains, despite recent marketing that suggests grains are making pets sick. If you are currently feeding your dog a grain-free diet, you should speak with our veterinary team about food safety.

Environmental allergies

Dogs and cats can become sensitive to things in their environment, just like people. Environmental allergies require regular checkups and lifelong management. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can be seasonal. Common causes of these allergies in pets include:

  • Dust
  • Mites
  • Pollens
  • Trees
  • Grasses
  • Weeds
  • Molds
  • Household products

Allergy testing can help determine the specific environmental allergen. A skin test, similar to human allergy testing, is performed. A reaction suggests the pet is allergic to that substance. Once the offending allergens are identified, avoiding the allergen is recommended if at all possible. If the allergen cannot be avoided, an allergy “vaccine” can be formulated to help desensitize the immune system to the allergens. Most pets see 50 percent relief within six months. Our veterinarians can prescribe oral and topical medications that will help control your pet’s itching and infections.

Flea allergy dermatitis

Fleas are an unfortunate fact of life in Tennessee. Some pets suffer with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), an extreme allergic reaction to these pesky creatures. It takes only a single flea bite to affect your pet. When the flea bites, some saliva is left behind. Dogs or cats may be allergic to the protein that the saliva contains, which causes an itchy reaction. Flea and tick preventives that contain a repellant can help sensitive pets. Our veterinarians can help you find the right product for your furry friend.

Don’t let allergies get the best of you or your pet this spring. If you suspect your pet is suffering from food or environmental allergies, set up an appointment with our veterinary team today.