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How To Tell if Your Pet Has Allergies

Published on: December 22, 2022  |  Author: Starwood Pet Travel

collie dog outside with dandelions

Like their Fur Moms and Fur Dads, cats and dogs can suffer from allergies to any number of things. And the result can be truly irritating – literally and figuratively. Anyone who has lived with their pet’s incessant licking instantly understands this problem. You and your pet will both be happier if you get help. But is your pet’s licking (or other responses) due to allergies or some other problem?

Telltale allergy symptoms in dogs and cats

Licking paws is the number one sign of allergy in pets. The groin area is another target for allergy-induced licking. Pets lick because they itch! Eventually, the chemicals in their saliva can turn their fur a sort of burgundy-red color that can look disconcertingly like dried blood. Worse, all that licking (or biting) can cause raised welts or open wounds vulnerable to infection as well as hair loss.

Besides licking, there are myriad other symptoms that may indicate dogs or cats are suffering from some type of allergy. If you think your pet may have this problem, check these key areas of their body for typical symptoms:

  • The face: Are they rubbing or scratching their face? Do they have reddened skin or hair loss on their muzzle, chin, or around the eyes?
  • The ears: Are they rubbing or scratching at their ears? Are they red, do they smell bad, or have a waxy discharge?
  • The skin: Are they constantly licking (or scratching) their body, especially sides, elbows, belly, or groin? Is their skin becoming red, scaly, or infected? Do they smell “off” (other than just needing a bath)?
  • The coat: Are they developing bald spots or that distinctive dark reddish color to the fur?
  • The feet: Are they constantly licking or chewing their paws, especially the pads? Do they show any of the symptoms noted for other body areas?

You might also notice:

  • Repeated presence of hot spots (dogs) or pinpoint scabs (cats)
  • Wheezing or snoring (somewhat more common in cats)
  • Recurring diarrhea or vomiting

Allergy symptoms often get worse as your pet gets older. In dogs, allergies tend to occur more often in certain breeds, especially snub-nosed breeds and setters, terriers, and retrievers.

What causes pet allergies?

Pet allergens fall into four main categories:

  1. Seasonal or environmental allergies. This is the usual culprit, and it is frequently seasonal because atopic allergies are caused by environmental factors. That might be pollen, dust mites, or mold. Various types of pollen affect dogs and cats – this is usually what triggers all that licking. Pets pick up the pollen (or another trigger source) on their paws as they walk, and on their bodies as they roll in the grass or simply from the air. Atopic allergens can be inhaled, too.
  2. Flea allergies. Pets who aren’t adequately protected from fleas can be allergic to the bites, causing dermatitis (skin rash).
  3. Food allergies. Somewhere around 10% to 15% of cats and dogs are allergic to various foods. Pets with food allergies often suffer from other types of allergies, too.
  4. Contact allergies. As the name implies, this might be almost anything your pet comes in physical contact with, from carpet fibers to plastics, household cleaners, or other chemicals.

And, by the way, cigarette smoke is as dangerous to your pets as it is to the rest of your family. It can exacerbate allergies, especially those that cause respiratory symptoms.

How can you alleviate their suffering?

It’s a relief to know the root of your pet’s problem. But what you really want to know is how to help them find relief. The key point here is that your pet’s response to a given allergen may be similar to yours, or it might be very different. In fact, one pet may respond differently than another. So you can’t make any assumptions about cause and effect. This requires a visit to your veterinarian.  

The type of allergy, and how severe it is, determine the most effective treatment. Your vet may have to do allergy tests on your pet, similar to “skin patch” testing in humans. And if diagnosing your pet is particularly challenging, your vet may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist. After pinpointing the cause, your vet may recommend:

  • Oral or injectable medication, or
  • Fatty acid supplements and/or special shampoos or sprays

For pets with flea allergies, the obvious solution is regular flea and tick medication.

In rare cases, pet allergies can be so severe as to be life-threatening. Your vet may prescribe an epi-pen, which you will need to carry with you when you and your pet are away from home. See our other blog posts on what to have in your pet's emergency kit along with CPR tips. You never know when an emergency will take place so you should always be prepared!

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