Spring brings warm weather, flowers, and allergies, and it’s not just us humans who can be affected. Dogs and cats can have allergies to pollen, grasses, trees, food ingredients, and even to pet dander. So what can we do to help?
scratching at armpits
scooting rear on the ground
red itchy ears
frequent ear infections
redness around the eyes
sneezing with clear spray
coughing (usually dry, not productive)
How to treat allergies: Unfortunately, allergies aren’t usually curable. They can be managed, but your itchy pet will likely need some help every time they get exposed to their trigger.
First step – reduce exposure
Give your pet a bath to take pollen off their skin. Most gentle pet shampoos will work as long as your pet doesn’t have any red spots. If you see rashes, please see your veterinarian first. A good rule of thumb is to bathe once a week during itchy season.
Talk to your veterinarian about whether your pet might have a food sensitivity. Please, don’t change your food before the appointment! Make a list of the foods and treats you have ever offered your pet to help your veterinarian pick the best trial diet.
Next step – treat infections
Yeast and bacteria can grow in inflamed, itchy skin.
They make the itch even worse, and can cause odor, crusts, and/or greasy fur.
Your veterinarian can diagnose these by looking under the microscope, and sometimes may need to culture bacteria to find the best antibiotics.
Treatments are usually topical (shampoos, wipes, ointments) and/or oral (pills).
Last step – relieve the itch
There are medications targeted directly at the molecules that signal itch in dogs. Apoquel comes as pills and Cytopoint is an injection given every 1-2 months as needed. These revolutionary treatments have very few to no side effects and are very effective at making your pup more comfortable.
Steroids used to be the mainstay of anti-itch therapy. These decrease redness and swelling and are very effective at treating itch. They do come with some side effects, however. Dogs will often pant and pace or seem anxious, and can drink and urinate more. They will also be more hungry. Cats can develop diabetes from long term steroid use.
Antihistamines are less effective than either of the other two classes of medications, but are very helpful with sudden allergic reactions like insect stings. For mildly itchy pets antihistamines can relieve symptoms. Beware never to use the non-drowsy formula for your pets. Please talk to your veterinarian about safe doses of Benadryl (diphenhydramine, cats and dogs), Zyrtec (cetirizine, dogs), or ChlorTrimeton (chlorpheniramine, cats).
Is cure ever possible? Certain pets can actually be cured of their allergies through a process called allergy immunotherapy. Skin testing is the most accurate way to find out what triggers your pet’s allergies. Blood testing is becoming more accurate every year.
Once the allergens are known, injections are prepared with increasing amounts of those triggers to gradually desensitize your pet. The process takes about a year.
Pets with food sensitivities (about a quarter of all allergic pets) can usually be controlled by limiting what they eat and avoiding the trigger food once we find out what it is. While not actually cured, these pets get to be comfortable without medications most of the time.