As warmer weather encourages plants to begin their mad growth spurt, pollen fills the air, and makes many allergy sufferers miserable. Sneezing and rubbing at itchy, red, watery eyes is the norm for people who have a seasonal allergy to the many pollen types that appear during the spring growing season. And, your furry pal may suddenly become itchy. Their itching is not limited to their eyes, and affects their whole body. In this case, your pet likely has allergies, too, and could benefit from allergy management to get them through their itchy season. If your four-legged friend suffers from allergies, here are five facts you need to know.

#1: Pets often exhibit different allergy signs than people

Although pets can develop the same respiratory signs as people with allergies, they are much less likely to sneeze and have reddened, watery eyes. Instead, pets are prone to skin issues when their allergies flare. Common allergy signs in pets include:

  • Reddened, inflamed skin
  • Thickened skin
  • Excessive shedding or hair loss
  • Oozing skin or hot spots
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Anal gland infections
  • Licking at paws
  • Shaking head
  • Scratching at ears

Allergy signs can be mild one day, and then explode seemingly overnight, so keep a close eye on your pet if they are a known allergy sufferer, to get a jump on any allergy flares. 

#2: Fleas are a major allergen for pets

Despite their tiny size, fleas can be a huge problem for allergic pets. Flea bite dermatitis is a hypersensitivity to the protein in flea saliva, which means an allergic pet can break out after only a handful of flea bites. In some cases, particularly cats, you may not see fleas on your pet, but they will exhibit the classic flea allergy signs of hair loss on the tail and hind end, scabs, and excessive chewing at the tail. These pets often have no fleas on their body, but flea dirt, which are tiny black flecks that are essentially flea excrement, may be seen as evidence of fleas. By checking your pet for flea dirt, and looking for fleas in thin-furred areas like the abdomen, our veterinary team can quickly diagnose a flea allergy, and get your furry pal the proper treatment.

#3: Food is rarely the cause of pet allergies

Contrary to popular belief, food—particularly grains—is rarely the cause of pet allergies. A true food allergy in pets is exceptionally rare, while food sensitivities can cause gastrointestinal upset. Pets with food allergies generally develop a hypersensitivity to the protein source in their diet, which most commonly include:

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Egg
  • Dairy
  • Soy

Another misconception about food allergies in pets is that they never affect a pet who has been fed the same food for their entire life, when, in fact, the opposite is true. Repeated exposure to the same protein, such as chicken, can make a pet hypersensitive to that ingredient, and cause a food allergy. However, constantly switching your pet’s food is not a great solution, because performing a dietary trial should an allergy develop then becomes difficult. To decide the best food for your pet, speak with your Best Friends Veterinary Care veterinarian.

#4: Allergies can be present in pets year round

While people are used to being plagued with springtime allergies, allergies in pets can occur year round. Substances your pet is exposed to year-round, such as dust mites, fabrics, fleas, and food, can trigger an allergy flare at any time. However, pets with allergies to multiple triggers are typically itchy all year long, and then suffer flares during their “itchy seasons,” which are often spring and fall. On the other hand, some pets have opposite itchy seasons, doing well during warmer months, but flaring up during cold seasons when the furnace kicks on and spreads more dust.

#5: Antihistamines are generally ineffective when managing allergies in pets

Since allergies in pets typically do not present as respiratory signs, antihistamines do not work well to manage their condition. If your pet has watery eyes and sneezes excessively, antihistamines may help dry them, but they’ll need a different treatment course for itchy skin. Effective therapies designed to make your allergic pet more comfortable include:

  • Medicated shampoos
  • Corticosteroids
  • Immunotherapy
  • Specific anti-itch medications (e.g., Apoquel, Cytopoint)
  • Skin supplements
  • Topical medications 
  • Ear cleaners and medications
  • Medicated wipes

If your pet has developed a secondary bacterial infection from scratching and chewing, antibiotics may also be warranted.

Is your furry pal suddenly scratching and chewing themselves raw? If so, they may have developed a springtime allergy to pollen in the environment. To diagnose the cause of your pet’s itching, contact our Best Friends Veterinary Care team and schedule an appointment.