Pet allergies confuse many pet owners. Allergies can vary greatly from pet to pet, and an individual pet’s allergies can also change, often becoming more severe and extending through longer “itchy seasons” as she ages. Many myths abound about allergies in pets, and sorting through the information to determine what is correct can be challenging. Here are the most common questions pet owners are itching to scratch about their furry friends’ allergies:

Question #1: Why do antihistamines not work well for my pet’s allergies?

Allergies affect people differently than pets. We suffer with runny noses and itchy, watery eyes during allergy season, and while some pets may have seasonal bouts of sneezing and reddened eyes, it’s uncommon, and allergies in pets usually manifest as itchy skin. Antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Claritin) are ineffective for pet allergies, because they work by binding histamine receptors on throat and nasal cells before the histamine can attach to the receptors. Histamine causes the cells to swell and leak fluid, which results in sneezing, congestion, and a runny nose, so antihistamines do not relieve a pet’s itchy skin. 

Question #2: I feed my dog a corn-free food. Why is she still scratching?

Many pet owners falsely believe that grain-free diets are the best option for pets with allergies. In fact, pets are rarely allergic to food, and are even less likely to be allergic to grains. A pet who suffers from a food allergy is usually allergic to the protein source, such as chicken, lamb, or fish. 

Question #3: You only found one flea on my cat. Why do you think she has a flea allergy?

For pets who are hypersensitive to fleas, a lone flea bite can cause a massive allergic flare. Pets who aren’t allergic may be crawling with fleas, but only scratch occasionally. An allergic pet usually displays hair loss on the hind end, especially around the tail.

Question #4: My dog has eaten the same food since she was a puppy. Why do you think she has a food allergy now?

A food allergy doesn’t develop overnight. Your pet may eat the same food for up to two years before her immune system decides an ingredient is a foreign substance. 

Question #5: My pet has chronic ear infections. Why does that mean she has an allergy?

Allergies in pets often manifest as skin conditions and affect the ears, too. The skin becomes damaged because of allergic inflammation, forming the perfect breeding ground for an overgrowth of the yeast and/or bacteria that can be natural residents in the ears. 

Question #6: My dog’s anal glands keep getting impacted. How is that related to her allergies?

Your pet’s entire body, including her anal glands, can become inflamed because of her allergies. The inflamed, thickened gland tissue makes it difficult for your pet to naturally express the glands during a bowel movement. The anal gland fluid that is not released then builds up and thickens, and may cause a painful impaction or abscess. Frequently, this occurs without an allergic situation as it’s origin.

Question #7: Why do you give my cat steroids for her allergies, but only on occasion to my dog?

Cats metabolize steroids better than dogs and suffer from fewer long-term side effects. But, cats also have fewer options for allergies than dogs. Treatments for dogs have expanded to include medications that solely target the “itch response” rather than suppressing the entire immune system. Nevertheless, there are times in dogs where steroids may, in fact, be necessary.

Question #8: I bathe my dog every week to help with the odor from her allergies. How can that make her skin issues worse?

If you bathe your pet frequently, the shampoo can strip off the healthy, natural oils from her skin. Many shampoos sold in pet stores dry out your dog’s skin and can cause more itching. For pets suffering from allergies, a medicated or soap-free shampoo is best. Medicated shampoos contain antibacterial, antifungal, and steroid components to help soothe and heal your pet’s skin, while soap-free shampoos don’t strip the healthy oils so much. 

Is your pet’s licking, chewing, and scratching keeping your family awake at night? Call us to help manage your furry friend’s allergies so you can all rest in peace.