Did you know that the month of August is Itchy Pet Awareness Month? Pets itch for many reasons, and it can happen randomly. So, what causes itchy pets? The reasons for itchy pets can range from parasites to outdoor allergens to chemicals found in household items, with allergies being the most common cause. Surprisingly, dogs and cats often don’t display their allergies the same way as humans do with running noses and sneezing. Our four-legged friends more often develop atopic dermatitis or itchy skin. This article will cover the causes of allergies, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments for dogs and cats.
Allergies in Dogs & Cats
An allergy happens when the dog’s or cat’s immune system overreacts or is hypersensitive to foreign substances known as allergens.
Food Allergies in Dogs
A food allergy is primarily prevalent in dogs. With a food allergy, the dog’s body produces antibodies against part of the food. They usually react to a protein within the food related to the meat source. The common signs of a food allergy are typically itchy paws, skin, or ears and vomiting or diarrhea. Other less common and more subtle changes include weight loss, aggression, and lack of energy.
Food Allergies in Cats
A food allergy in cats is also an allergic reaction to a specific protein within the food. An ingredient a cat has eaten for a long time can still provoke an allergy at some point in the cat’s life. The foods usually linked with food allergies in cats include fish, beef, dairy, and chicken.
Genetics often play a role in food allergies in cats. Many cats react to both environmental allergens and food ingredients. Unfortunately, cats with allergies frequently present with chronic itching and skin inflammation – the face, belly, armpits, ears, legs, and paws. Since these cats are so itchy, they constantly overgroom themselves, causing trauma to their skin and hair loss.
In addition to their skin symptoms, cats with food allergies form gastrointestinal signs like diarrhea and vomiting. They may also have constant bowel movements or strain when they are pooping.
Environmental Allergies in Dogs
Numerous substances can act as allergens to our furry friends. Most are proteins of plant, insect, or animal origin. Examples of common environmental dog allergens are mold spores, pollens, grasses, dust mites, and trees. These allergies can be seasonal or year-round, depending on the allergen.
Environmental Allergies in Cats
There are four common types of allergies in cats: insect (fleas), inhalant (pollen, house dust, and molds), food allergy (discussed earlier), and contact.
- Flea allergy dermatitis commonly affects cats. A cat with flea allergies can have a severe reaction to even one single fleabite. This reaction is an allergic response to antigens or proteins present in the flea’s saliva. This will cause severe itching and often hair loss in your feline friend.
- Most cats that have an inhalant allergy have allergies to multiple allergens. These can include grasses, pollens, mildew, molds, and house dust mites. However, others, such as grass pollens, cedar, and ragweed, occur seasonally. This will also manifest itself as itchiness in your kitty.
- Lastly, contact allergies are the least prevalent of the four types of allergies in cats. This happens when the cat receives a reaction on the skin from touching an allergic substance. For instance, flea collars, shampoos, or wool.
Signs/Symptoms of Itchy Pets
In dogs, the most prevalent symptom linked with allergies is skin itching, either in one area or all over the body. You may find your dog scratching, rubbing their face on the floor or furniture, chewing or licking their paws, or even scooting their rear end. In some cases, the symptoms can include coughing, sneezing, or wheezing, although this is not as common. Sometimes, the allergic symptoms impact the dog’s digestive system resulting in diarrhea and vomiting.
Diagnosis of Allergy for Dogs and Cats
The best technique to diagnose a food allergy in dogs and cats is to feed them a prescription hypoallergenic diet for several weeks as a food trial called an elimination trial. There are two different types of food that can be fed for an elimination trial. One is a novel protein diet. This unique diet will not contain any ingredients that your dog or cat has eaten in the past. The other is a hydrolyzed protein diet. This diet does contain proteins, but they are processed in a way that breaks them down to a point where your pet’s body cannot recognize them as an allergen. Regardless of which diet is best for your pet, both require that no other foods, such as flavored vitamins and specific parasite preventives, are fed.
Also, blood testing can determine whether your dog is allergic to certain foods or environmental substances. These are known as serum IgE tests, and we can discuss whether this would be beneficial in diagnosing your pet’s condition. In the case of food allergies, once the offending food substance has been pinpointed, a diet that does not have the ingredient is chosen. Just as with the elimination trial, we would choose either a novel protein or hydrolyzed protein diet for your pet, depending on their specific needs.
If your dog has a diagnosed food allergy, be aware of dog foods in retail stores sold as limited-ingredient. These retail pet foods are not manufactured with the same strict health and safety protocols as the prescription diets to prevent cross-contamination.
Allergy Treatments for Cats and Dogs
The treatment of skin diseases and allergies can be challenging for owners and veterinarians. Several exams and treatments may be necessary to diagnose the specific source of itching in your itchy pet. Examples include removing the allergen if it is a contact allergy or completing one of more of the following three therapies for allergy season:
- Anti-inflammatory therapy – Anti-itch drugs like Apoquel or antihistamines will quickly block the allergic reaction. Cytopoint is another medication that can be given as a monthly injection to help stop your dog’s itching. Corticosteroids can be used in serious cases, but long-term use of those drugs is not recommended.
- Shampoo therapy – Regular bathing with a hypoallergenic or medicated shampoo can soothe itchy skin on dogs and cats. Some shampoos also come in spray or mousse forms to make caring for your pet easier.
- Hypersensitization therapy- An oral allergy serum or allergy shots can be provided to the patient if the offending antigens are identified by allergy testing. These treatments involve twice-daily pumps under the tongue or regular injections of small amounts of the antigen.
Diagnosing and starting a treatment regime for your pet can be frustrating. No one wants to have to watch their pet be uncomfortable. Including us! Here at Mount Carmel Animal Hospital, we will work with you to find a solution to your pet’s itchiness as quickly and effectively as possible. If your pet is suffering from chronic itchiness, please don’t hesitate to call the hospital to get your pet seen by one of our amazing vets so we can get them on the road to comfort!
Here at Mount Carmel Animal Hospital, We’ll Treat Your Pets Like Family!
Mount Carmel Animal Hospital has been serving the Northern Baltimore/Southern York community for over 30 years and is proud to be an independently operated, small animal practice committed to excellence in veterinary medicine and client service. From grooming to wellness services, along with Canine Life Skills Training Courses, and surgical procedures, we have the expertise that will best serve the needs of you and your pet. Contact us at 410-343-0200 and follow us on Facebook!