It’s Allergy Season for You and Your Pet, Too, Say Colorado State University Veterinarians

Watery eyes, sneezing, stuffy nose and itchy rashes are just a few symptoms that can drive you crazy during allergy season. But humans aren’t the only ones to suffer, according to veterinarians at Colorado State University. Pets are allergy sufferers as well.

"The most common signs of allergies in dogs and cats have more to do with itchy skin and ears than respiratory problems," said Dr. Rod Rosychuk, a dermatologist at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. "Excessive scratching, chewing or biting are indications that your pet may be afflicted with allergies."

Fortunately for Coloradoans, the most common pet allergy – fleabite allergy – isn’t a big problem in the state, thanks to a dry climate and cold winters. However, Rosychuk points out that, if fleas are found, pet owners should visit their veterinarian to ask about some of the newer therapies which are effective, simple to apply and very safe for pets. Other over-the-counter products such as shampoos, sprays and dips are variously effective, and pet owners should be especially aware that some products intended for dogs could be dangerous for cats. The label will indicate whether or not it can be used for both species and the directions should be read and followed carefully.

"It’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian if your pet is exhibiting signs of allergies," Rosychuk said. "However, when allergies are the diagnosis, several options can usually be made for testing or treatment.

Some of the more common pet allergies include:

Environmental Allergies. These include sensitivity to tree pollen, weeds, grasses, house dust mites and mold. This is usually seasonal-tree pollen in the spring, grass pollen in the summer and weed pollen in the summer and fall. Dust mite sensitivities tend to be year round and often worse in the winter when the house is closed and pets are indoors more often. Dogs both inhale these allergens and absorb them through the skin. Cats are also affected, but much less so than dogs.

Symptoms include increased scratching, rubbing, licking and chewing, especially of the feet, face, ears and flanks, and inflammation of the skin. Dogs will also "scoot" to relieve itching in the anal area.

Suggested therapy for these allergies include:

  • keeping your pet indoors during the heaviest pollination times which are dusk and dawn.
  • Avoid walking through fields or at least rinsing your pets’ feet with water after running through grassy or weedy sites.
  • Keep your lawn cut short.
  • Frequent bathing with medicated shampoos to help reduce the concentration of allergens on the skin surface.
  • Frequent cleaning and vacuuming or the removal of old carpets or matting where dust mites gather.
  • Regular washing and thorough drying of your pets’ bedding.
  • Minimize mold exposure by avoiding rooms with high moisture levels such as bathrooms and basements.

Food allergies. Your pet can develop sensitivity to a type of food over time. Cats are more susceptible to food allergies than dogs. Sensitivities are usually caused by one or more proteins, usually beef or beef by-products. Although food allergies can sometimes be noted immediately after starting a new diet, most pets become sensitive to ingredients over a long period of time.

Symptoms include gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, vomiting and excessive gas or skin irritation. Skin and ear irritation are identical to those identified for environmental allergies.

Changing pet food brands doesn’t always provide the answer because many contain similar ingredients. Your veterinarian will help diagnose the problem and differentiate it from other allergies by providing you with a restrictive commercial diet or recipe for a homemade restrictive diet.

Contact allergies. This is uncommon in the dog and rare in the cat. They include allergies to soaps, carpeting, grooming sprays, insecticides and some household cleaning products. Especially susceptible are areas on your pet’s body that are hairless or where the coat is thin.

Through either skin or blood tests, your veterinarian can help determine the allergens making your pet miserable. While there is no cure for allergies, you and your veterinarian can help manage the symptoms and keep your pet healthy and happy.