Preparing Your Pet for Allergy Season

Everyone with allergies knows when the season rolls around: workplaces and homes fill with the sounds of sniffling, sneezing, coughing and watering eyes. But did you know that pets can also suffer from allergies? Many people don’t, and the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine wants to help owners be aware and prepared to help their pet with allergies.

“Pets can have allergies the same as people,” said Dr. Amelia White, an assistant clinical professor in Dermatology Service of the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital. “They are allergic to many of the same things: pollen, plants, insects, dander, etc.”

Often though, pets will show allergies through their skin.  “Dogs, cats, and horses in particular are susceptible to many allergies, though instead of sneezing, their skin will become inflamed and itchy,” Dr. White said.

“They’ll show that they’re being affected by rubbing on things, scratching themselves constantly, and, in the case of cats, coughing up a large amount of hairballs. These are the things to watch out for.”

Though pets can also suffer from respiratory issues and ear infections, Dr. White explained that skin irritation, and infections that develop from them, will lead most people to the veterinarian’s office to help their pet.

Owners should watch to see if their pet is displaying signs of potential allergies, and should contact a veterinarian who can assist in identifying the pet’s allergy. Two common tests are available to help identify allergies: a serology, or blood test, to identify reactions in the bloodstream, and an intradermal allergen test or IDAT, which is a skin test.

“Both can work, but the IDAT is far more reliable because it allows us to measure reactions in real time and it costs roughly the same as a serology test, so it’s the preferred method,” Dr. White said. She stressed that while no test is foolproof, it’s important to know what a pet is allergic to, both to improve treatment and reduce negative side effects from medications that treat a broad range of allergens.

Dr. White also said that contrary to some common belief, allergy tests are not meant to diagnose if a person or pet has allergies, but to help develop treatment that will improve the quality of life for afflicted pets.

Unfortunately, pets can develop allergies anywhere from six months to six years of age, so a preemptive test to identify allergies before they begin to affect your pet may not be effective, and the best course is to wait until your pet actually starts displaying symptoms and signs.

Symptoms from allergies arise because of a fault in the pet’s immune system. It detects an allergy, and overcompensates to treat it, leading to the symptoms that many – humans and animals – deal with. All the while, the immune system just thinks it’s just doing its job.

Because reactions to allergies originate in the immune system, allergy shots may not be the only, nor the preferred, method of treatment for your pets.

Bathing treatments and diets including essential fatty acids can help to strengthen the animal’s immune system, she said, and immune tolerance treatments can introduce just enough of a pet’s allergy strain to help the animal’s immune system adapt and compensate, rather than overreact.

To view a video interview with Dr. White, and learn more about animal allergies, visit our YouTube page here.