Guess what? Pets have seasonal allergies, too

After the long winter, I know I can’t wait to open all of the windows in my house, go for a walk with my dog and start to garden again. The sun in the sky, the birds chirping around me make me energized for the first time in months to finally kick-start the year after being bundled inside for so long. I have a long list of home improvement items — this year, I will get around to applying a fresh coat of paint to my walls and plant some flowers on my patio. But there’s something that’s in the back of my mind with each new item added to my “to do” list: the safety of my pets.

In the spring, my allergies to pollen spring (literally) to life with a stuffy nose and itchy eyes. Did you know that dogs and cats can be allergic to things too? Like some human allergies, animal allergies can be very serious and should be monitored closely.

I had no idea dogs/cats could have allergies! What sorts of allergies can they have?

Allergies in animals can be broken down into a few categories and will be treated accordingly.

  • Contact Allergy: This can come from very “normal” items found around your home and yard, including pesticides or materials in their bedding (such as wool). Skin becomes irritated when coming in contact with the chemicals or materials, and is most common in areas with thin hair (chin, nose), and in areas that could come into contact with the irritant (feet, abdomen, groin). Some other items that may cause skin reactions include shampoos, especially those with iodine; poison ivy and poison oak; some dyes in carpets and even some medications.
  • Brown Recluse Spider. Credit: Live Science.com

  • Flea/Insect Bite Reaction: Bites or stings from fleas, ticks, some spiders and bees can cause reactions in pets. Your pets can be sensitive to the saliva or venom from the insects, which can cause inflammation and breathing difficulties. In dogs, allergies to fleas are very common. In North America, the brown recluse (or fiddleback) spider is of particular concern; it can kill tissue or leave ulcers. The spider is native to the U.S., and are found primarily in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, although it can and does travel.
  • Inhalant Allergies/Atopy: The third most common allergy in cats (and also a reaction in dogs) is sometimes referred to as a “seasonal allergies.” Pets can be allergic to many of the same things as humans, including pollens, mold, mildew and dust mites. Most animals that have inhalant allergies are allergic to several things.
  • Food Allergy: Yes, even Fido can be allergic to some types of food. Food allergies are rarely genetic in cats, but can develop from products they have eaten for some time. In both animals, food allergies or hypersensitivities may develop to “almost any protein or carbohydrate component of food.” These foods can include dairy products, beef, wheat gluten, chicken, chicken eggs, lamb and soy for dogs and beef, pork, chicken or turkey for cats. There is no medical treatment for such allergies, but rather an elimination approach and eating a hypoallergenic diet.

Wow, that seems like kind of a lot. What sorts of signs should I be looking for?

Common symptoms to look for in dogs include itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin; more scratching than normal; sneezing; vomiting; diarrhea; paw chewing or swollen paws and constant licking.

Common symptoms in cats include itching skin and increased scratching, vomiting, diarrhea, itchy back or tail (from flea allergies) and paw chewing or swollen paws.

Okay, but what about hot spots?

A hot spot on a dog’s paw. Credit: My Dog Dry Skin.com

Hot spots in dogs and cats are more formally known as pyotramatic and moist dermatitis, which involves a patch/area of skin becoming inflamed and infected. It also often appears as moist, oozing and reddened and can be quite painful for your animal.

Common triggers include grasses, weeds, food allergies, fleas and skin wounds.

How can you help your pet out? First, while figuring out the source of the issue is great, it shouldn’t be your top priority. Care for the wound first. The steps you should follow include: shaving the hair around the area, medicate and implement a therapy plan for post-treatment. Unless the wound is open, this is something you could care from at home; but when in doubt, visit your vet!

Are there any at-home remedies to help out my pet?

You bet! Keep in mind that while these help and will be good for your pet’s overall lifestyle, these are not the definitive solution for helping an allergy. If reactions persist, it is probably time for a visit to the vet.

Keeping your house clean is a good first step. Vacuuming and cleaning the pet’s crate or other spaces regularly will help remove dust mites and other potential allergens.

It may also help to clean toys that may have been outside. Be sure to be careful when cleaning with bleach; if used incorrectly, it can be harmful to your pet.

Try to keep your pets indoors with windows closed when pollen counts are high.

It can also help to give them regular baths to remove anything that could be caught in their coat, and also to wipe or rinse off their feet when coming in from outside. Humans, take off your shoes too! You can track pollens in as well.

And what about medical treatments?

While some human over-the-counter medications can be safe, if used appropriately, for your animals — it is also quite easy to over- or under-dose your pet. Call your vet prior to giving your animal any medicine for proper dosing instructions.

If you feel a trip to your vet is necessary, it may include some prescribed medicines to reduce inflammation, swelling and itching. Other treatments can include “allergy shots,” or something as simple as using hypoallergenic shampoo.

Stay tuned for the rest of this week. We’re going to continue the topic on how to keep your pet safe this spring. Next stop:  keeping your pet safe from the garden!

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