When pollen season rolls around, you might not be the only one sneezing and scratching. Your pet might be, too.
Dogs and cats develop allergies in the same way as humans, says Dr. Barbara Royal, PAWS Chicago board member and owner of the Royal Treatment Veterinary Center. She says most dogs develop skin allergies while cats often have both skin and lung problems.
But dogs are more likely to develop allergies, Royal adds, because they move in and out of the house frequently while most house cats never leave their favorite pillows. “Dogs are just exposed to so much more,” she says.
In her practice, Royal sees allergies in dogs and cats with certain characteristics. Short-nosed pets such as Bulldogs, Pugs and Persian cats have a “decreased capacity to filter because of their nose.” They also have more skin folds that can catch dirt and debris.
How to Diagnose an Allergy
Most vets, including Royal herself, uses the process of elimination to determine a pet’s allergy. Vets will first rule out fleas, ticks and any hormones that could be causing allergy-like symptoms.
Next, your vet will do environmental allergy and saliva testing. Your pet could be allergic to a number of things in the environment, such as dust mites or cleaning products. You may try vacuuming, cleaning air vents and dusting more frequently, or switching to a different cleaning product in your home. Washing toys can also make a big difference, Royal says.
Saliva tests identify certain foods or chemicals your pet may be allergic to. Both dogs and cats can be allergic to ingredients such as wheat, soy or dairy products. “I’m finding it’s not food allergies as much as the body saying it’s the wrong food,” Royal says.
Treating an Allergy
Once you and your vet have identified what your pet is allergic to, your vet will help you develop a regimen to keep allergies at bay.
For food allergies, Royal recommends getting pets off high-carb, wheat and potato diets, as they are inappropriate for a carnivore. She also recommends adding Omega-3 fish oil, fatty acids and hemp seed oils to a pet’s diet. “I think the most important decision you can make for an animal is nutrition,” she says.
Royal cautions against excessive bathing — she recommends no more than once every six weeks – and says dogs can go a year without a bath and be perfectly healthy. Too many baths will wash away the body’s oils that help the skin. Unless there is a real clinical problem, spot treat, but don’t over-bathe, she says. Topical ointments may work for environmental factors that cause itchy skin.
Shampoos also can be an irritation to animals already suffering from allergies. Detergent shampoos strip away those important natural protective oils, but Murphy’s Oil Soap is inexpensive and makes a great natural alternative to dog shampoo.
“Just look at the label and the ingredients,” Royal says. “It shouldn’t look like a list of chemicals.”
In her practice, Royal uses acupuncture and massage therapy to help pets with allergies. Some vets may also recommend medications, if appropriate.
When a pet has an allergy, it’s important to take it seriously. An allergy is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, and it works the same way for pets.
Allergy Symptoms in Cats and Dogs
Royal considers allergies to be an emergency, so it’s important to be on the lookout for potential allergy symptoms. The sooner you identify an allergy, the sooner you can help your pet.
Some of the most common symptoms:
- Increased scratching, especially around the head and temples for cats
- Constant licking
- Swollen paws or frequent paw chewing
- Itchy or runny eyes
- Red, moist or scabbed skin from itching
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PETS AND ALLERGIES:
Read this article on page 18 of the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of the PAWS Chicago magazine.