A cat eating from a dish

An itchy pet is an uncomfortable pet, and they can be frustrating for any pet owner. The constant scratching, chewing, and licking likely keeps you up at night, and can cause your pet to develop a secondary skin or ear infection. Allergies are one of the main reasons we see itchy pets at Bayside Animal Hospital, and learning more about this scratchy situation can help provide your pet the welcome relief they need. 

What causes allergies in pets?

The immune system is designed to protect your pet’s body by diligently patrolling for enemy invaders that may cause illness. An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system becomes hypersensitive to a usually benign substance (i.e., allergen), and releases histamines, causing redness, swelling, and itching. The most common hypersensitivity reactions in pets are because of allergies to fleas, the environment, or food, or through direct contact with an allergen, resulting in itchy skin, feet (i.e., dermatitis), or ears (i.e., otitis). 

What is a flea allergy in pets?

Your pet may be itching due to a flea infestation, or a hypersensitivity reaction to flea saliva (i.e., flea allergy dermatitis [FAD]). You may not see fleas on your pet, but only one flea can trigger an extremely itchy response in an allergic pet. Flea allergy signs include hair loss and small sores on your pet’s neck or lower back. Year-round flea prevention and control is essential for all pets, especially those with a flea allergy. 

How do environmental allergies affect pets?

Your pet may have an inherited hypersensitivity to common environmental allergens, such as pollen, grass, or dust mites. Environmental allergies (i.e., atopy) can be seasonal or year-round, and often cause dermatitis or otitis. Allergy testing can help determine the environmental allergens causing an allergic reaction, followed with desensitization therapy to retrain your pet’s overactive immune system. Unfortunately, allergy testing can be costly, and is not 100% effective. Other treatment protocols are available that can help reduce your pet’s itchiness and improve their comfort, but long-term use of certain medications may have side effects.

Is my pet allergic to their food?

Some pets can become hypersensitive to specific food ingredients, such as chicken, beef, pork, turkey, or lamb. Food allergies are less common than environmental allergies, but show similar signs, and can be year-round. If your pet starts itching after a food change, a hypersensitivity reaction may be involved. A food elimination trial, which includes a strict hypoallergenic diet for 8 to 12 weeks, is the only method for reaching a food allergy diagnosis. The ingredients in a hypoallergenic diet are designed to be completely different from any food your pet has previously eaten. Prescription diets are the most reliable option. 

What is a contact allergy in pets?

Direct contact with fabrics, household products, grass, or lawn fertilizers can provoke an uncommon hypersensitivity reaction. The points of contact, such as your pet’s feet or belly, can become red and irritated. Contact allergies are usually resolved by identifying the allergen and restricting your pet’s exposure, and cleansing their skin with wipes or bathing.

How do allergies cause secondary infections in pets?

Self-trauma from allergy-related itching breaks down your pet’s protective skin barrier, and allows for increased growth of the normal bacteria and yeast that live on skin and in ears. In addition to treating the underlying allergic cause, antibiotic or antifungal medications may be required to treat the infection. Medicated shampoos and topical treatments can also help bring the infection under control. 

Can allergies in pets be cured?

Most pets will have lifelong allergies, but their itchiness can be reduced or controlled with the appropriate treatment. Your pet can have more than one type of allergy, such as an environmental allergy and a food allergy, and require a combination of treatment protocols. Flea allergies require diligent flea prevention and control. Environmental allergy signs may be reduced or eliminated with allergy testing and desensitization, and medications and supplements can help control itching. If your pet has a positive response to a food elimination trial, they would benefit from a life-long specific diet. Frequent bathing with hypoallergenic shampoos can soothe your pet, and reduce allergen contact on their skin.

If you are living with an itchy pet, don’t hesitate to contact the Bayside Animal Hospital team. We will develop an effective allergy control strategy and bring relief to your four-legged friend.