Allergies in people are often described as hay fever—itchy and watery nose and eyes. Allergies in pets, however, most often manifest as scratching from itchy skin. Licking, rubbing, scratching, and scooting all indicate your pet may need help. The team at Westerville Veterinary Clinic has the experience and the expertise to diagnose and treat the three main categories of pet allergies—flea, food, and environmental.

Recognizing pet allergy signs

Allergies cause your pet to scratch, chew, lick, and rub their skin, and red skin and hair loss follow. The damaged, inflamed, and thickened skin often develops a recurring secondary bacterial or yeast infection (i.e., pyoderma) that affects the ears and paws.

  • Fleas — Pets who are allergic to the saliva from a flea bite often develop hair loss and redness over their back and hind end.
  • Food — If you suspect a food allergy, remember that pets may react to new foods, but they typically develop allergies only to known foods, after their bodies have been exposed for a period of time.
  • Environment — If you suspect environmental allergies, be aware that outdoor environmental allergies to certain plants or pollens are likely seasonal, whereas if the cause is indoor dust mites, for example, they may be year-round.

Diagnosing a pet allergy

When our Westerville Veterinary Clinic  team sees an itchy pet, we use different diagnostic tools for each allergy type.

  • Fleas — We first reach for a flea comb to examine the pet. Flea combs reveal fleas and flea dirt, which is the waste fleas leave behind after biting your pet and digesting their blood. Our veterinarians can usually diagnose  a flea bite allergy based on physical exam results.
  • Food — Food allergies are a little harder to diagnose, because no effective laboratory or blood test can pinpoint problem food ingredients. A strict dietary trial is the only method for diagnosing a pet food allergy.
  • Environment — For pet environmental allergies, blood testing is available, and intradermal skin testing is the gold standard.

Planning pet allergy treatment

Fortunately, many convenient, highly effective products and methods are available for the battle against pet allergies.

  • Fleas The flea treatment plan begins with choosing the best topical or oral flea medication to control your pet’s fleas, depending on their situation, as well as for all other household pets. With severe flea infestations, the home and environment must also be treated. If your pet’s itchiness has led to skin damage, inflammation, and infection, they may need prescription medications, including anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and  anti-itch medications, available as tablets, injections, or topicals.
  • Food — When a food trial has revealed your pet’s specific food ingredient allergy, a novel-ingredient diet will be prescribed. All household members must be on board with the plan to strictly feed only the new diet, with no treats or table food. Eliminating the problem ingredients, whether they are chicken, beef, preservatives, or dyes, is the best long-term treatment for pet food allergy. In the short-term, anti-itch medications, along with supplements, topicals, and shampoos may help  support skin health. Remember that grain-free pet diets are not recommended for pets while the FDA is researching whether grain-free diets are linked to heart disease in dogs.
  • Environment — To treat environmental pet allergies, allergen-specific immunotherapy can be customized for your pet, based on their allergy test results. This therapy consists of injections or sublingual medications administered on a decreasing schedule over several months. This “hyposensitization” therapy provides relief to 60% to 80% of dogs. You can also alleviate your pet’s suffering from environmental allergies with frequent baths, the use of paw wipes, and installing home air filters.

Our veterinary team can advise you on dietary supplements and topical therapies that support pet skin health. The normal protective skin barrier does not function well in pets with skin allergies, so restoring this skin barrier with topical ceramide and fatty acid products often helps. Pet anti-itch medications were limited in the past to systemic drugs with many side effects, but now targeted therapy with Atopica, Apoquel, or Cytopoint can relieve your pet’s itch more safely. 

This season and throughout the year, the team at Westerville Veterinary Clinic wants to help maintain your pet’s comfort. Call us for an appointment, so we can recognize, diagnose, and treat your pet, whether they are allergic to fleas, food, or the environment.