Spring has officially sprung, and with the blooming flowers and trees comes allergy season for many sniffling humans. Runny-nosed, watery-eyed pet owners who suffer from hay fever know the discomfort associated with the spring and summer, but many allergies are a year-round problem in our warm Port Charlotte climate. Pets are also prone to seasonal environmental allergens, and they have woken many pet owners from a deep sleep with their leg-thumping and scratching. Your four-legged friend may also develop other, non-seasonal allergies. Our Groves Veterinary Clinic team describes three common pet allergies, the signs, and the treatment options. 

Flea allergies and pets

Florida residents are all too familiar with biting, hitchhiking pests, especially fleas. Many pets are sensitive to a protein present in flea saliva, and although you may have never seen a flea crawling on your pet, only a bite or two can cause them severe itching and discomfort. Pets who are sensitive to flea saliva are at risk of developing flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), a skin inflammation that is a leading cause of allergies in pets. Most pets develop this allergy between the ages of 2 and 5 years old; however, it can occur at any age. FAD signs include:

  • Itching from the middle back to the tail base
  • Itching and hair loss on the rear legs
  • Scabbing around the neck and tail base
  • Excessive rubbing, chewing, or nibbling on the skin
  • Brown-stained fur from excessive licking 
  • Patchy areas of hair loss, especially on feline faces
  • Red skin

Bring your pet for a veterinary examination if they show any FAD signs. Many affected pets may not have live fleas present during examinations, because of their excessive grooming practices, but our Groves Veterinary Clinic veterinarian will thoroughly examine your pet for live fleas, in addition to flea excrement. They may also perform an intradermal skin test to determine if your pet is sensitive to flea saliva. Pets with severe FAD are at risk for secondary bacterial infections, and we may recommend antibiotic treatment and a medicated shampoo. However, the best, most effective flea treatment is a regular prevention protocol. Fleas can survive for extended periods of time in variable environments, and our warm Port Charlotte weather is ideal for fleas to survive and thrive, making prevention critical. 

Food allergies and pets

Some pets can develop an intolerance or allergy to certain foods that, when ingested, can be mistaken by the immune system as an invader rather than a nutrient source. Common food allergens in dogs include chicken, beef, dairy, and egg. Cats with food allergies are most commonly sensitive to certain fish. Food allergy signs may include:

  • Itching all over the body
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Skin infections
  • Vomiting or diarrhea 
  • Chewing on paws
  • Itching that is not relieved by corticosteroids

Diagnosing a food allergy can be challenging, since all allergy signs are similar, and no reliable or definitive food allergy test is available. If our veterinary team suspects your pet is suffering from a food allergy, they will likely recommend a food trial, or elimination diet, which is the most effective way to make a diagnosis. A food trial involves feeding your pet a diet with novel protein and carbohydrate sources, or hydrolyzed ingredients their immune system does not recognize, for approximately eight weeks, and monitoring them for improvement. Following the eight-week period, your pet receives the previous food and is watched for a reaction, to confirm the food allergy. The new diet can then be re-introduced, but this time individual ingredients from the original diet can be added to identify the specific allergen(s). Food trials require patience and time, and are only effective if your pet receives no other treats, or flavored supplements or medications during the trial.  

Environmental allergies and pets

Like humans, pets may be sensitive to environmental agents such as pollen, dust, mold, mites, and grasses. Pets also experience seasonal allergies, although they itch, rather than sneezing or having watery eyes. Pets with environmental allergies (i.e., atopy) are affected when the allergens enter through a defective skin barrier, the immune system recognizes the allergens as invaders, and severe itchiness results. Some breeds, including golden retrievers, boxers, Labrador retrievers, and pugs, are more at risk for atopy, although any breed or species can be affected. Most pets develop seasonal allergies when they are young, with 70% of dogs who are diagnosed with atopy between the ages of 1 and 3 years. Pets with atopy may experience the following:

  • Severe itching during warmer months
  • Chronic or recurrent fungal skin and ear infections
  • Chewing or licking the top of the feet and between the toes
  • Flaky skin
  • Red skin
  • Hair loss
  • Scabbing skin 

If our veterinarian suspects that your pet has environmental allergies, a blood allergy test or skin test may be recommended. Pets with atopy are at risk for secondary infections from excessive scratching and skin damage, so antibiotics or antifungal treatments may be needed. Other atopy treatments may include:

  • Antihistamine medications
  • Immunotherapy injections
  • Anti-itching medications
  • Medicated baths
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements 

Determining the underlying cause of your pet’s itchiness can be challenging, since many allergy signs are similar. However, you do not want your pet to suffer, and neither do we, so call our Groves Veterinary Clinic office and schedule an appointment if you suspect your pet may have allergies.