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It’s fascinating just how much people and pets have in common – and uncomfortable allergies are no exception. If your pet is biting, scratching, or constantly has sleep in his eyes, he may not necessarily be sick – allergies might just be the culprit.
What Are Allergies?
Allergies are a reaction to allergens: a substance that causes a hypersensitive reaction in people and animals. Unfortunately, just about anything can be an allergen – grass, dust, fabric, anything natural or synthetic.
What Are Signs of Pet Allergies?
While humans exhibit signs of allergies with coughing, sneezing, and irritated eyes, pets are more likely to scratch a lot or lick their paws excessively. They may also have ocular and/or nasal discharge. Ear infections are also a very common symptom of allergies. **Constant scratching and licking can lead to raw skin and hair loss. If your pet is exhibiting these symptoms, he should be taken to a veterinarian, as he may also be ill.
What are the most common pet allergies?
Though there are countless materials your pet can be allergic to, there are five main types: bacterial, contact, flea, food, and inhalant.
Bacterial allergies stem from Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria. Some dogs are allergic to this bacterium. It can cause circular hair loss and looks similar to ringworm. Though easily treated with antibiotics, dogs that are allergic can have recurring infections.
Contact allergies are the least common. This involves allergic reactions to certain materials or products – flea collars, bedding, etc. This allergy will cause skin irritation and itching. Though it’s easily treated by removing the object that is causing the allergy, identifying the allergy-causing object can be a challenge.
Food allergies are usually developed and not inherent. Most frequently, the allergy develops from the protein component of the food (meat and poultry). Symptoms of food allergies can include itching, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress. Testing for food allergies can be difficult. The pet is put on a hypoallergenic diet which must be followed EXACTLY for at least 8-12 weeks. If the diet is not followed precisely, you will never get an exact diagnosis. As with all ailments, it is best to consult with your veterinarian if you suspect your pet may have a food allergy.
Flea allergies are common. While some pets only find the flea bite mildly irritating, some can be highly allergic resulting in severe itching, scratching and biting and causing hair loss and scabs. If an animal chews and scratches himself too much, he can give himself a bacterial infection.
The best protection against flea allergies is prevention. Treating your pet with a flea/tick preventative can nip this allergy in the bud, however if additional measures need to be taken, your veterinarian may prescribe an antihistamine such as atarax. If that is not the best solution for your pet, your veterinarian may prescribe cortisone or steroids to block the allergy and give the animal some relief.
**Note: Steroids do not affect animals the same way they affect humans – so the human side effects of steroids do not apply to pets. This should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Inhalant allergies, or atopy, are the most common type of pet allergy. All of the things that cause inhalant allergies in humans can cause allergies in pets – things like various types of pollens, dust mites, mold and mildew. Your pet may have one, several or all of these allergies. Like in humans, some of these allergies are seasonal, while others are around all of the time. If your pet has an inhalant allergy, he will exhibit itchiness and scratching. Treatment, however, will depend on the type and number of allergies.
Inhalant allergies are usually treated in three ways: an anti-inflammatory (antihistamines or cortisone), a topical shampoo and frequent bathing or allergy shots (hyposensitization), which aim to desensitize the body to the allergy. Regardless of what allergy your pet has, one thing is for certain: you should consult your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. Since allergy symptoms can mimic various illnesses, be sure not to self-diagnose and NEVER self-treat.
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