Cats and dogs can be affected by various allergens that range from seasonal or environmental to food and flea allergies. Many pet owners assume their pets have allergies because they scratch more—which is one of the most telling allergy signs—but allergies in pets manifest differently and mostly cause physical issues. Our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic team explains the signs of pet allergies, identifies common causes, and explores treatment options to give your pet relief.

Pet allergy signs

Allergies do not always show in pets as they do in people (e.g., itchy, watery eyes, and sneezing). Rather, cats and dogs often develop skin conditions and secondary infections. The following signs are most often seen in pets with allergies:

  • Itchy skin — Pet allergies often lead to excessive itching or scratching. Your pet may constantly lick, bite, or chew their skin, leading to redness, irritation, and hair loss.
  • Ear infections — Allergies can also manifest in pets as recurrent ear infections. If you notice your pet shaking their head frequently or scratching at their ears, or if you observe redness and odor in their ears, that could signal allergies.
  • Upper respiratory conditions — Some pets with allergies experience upper respiratory infection-like conditions, such as coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge, but these signs are more common in pets allergic to environmental allergens, such as pollen or dust mites.
  • Digestive issues — Allergies can also affect your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in appetite and weight loss.

Pet allergy causes

Because allergens are everywhere, finding the cause of your furry pal’s allergic reactions involves allergy testing that we can perform at our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic. Mostly, your pet’s allergy will be caused by one or more of the following:

  • Fleas — One flea bite can trigger an allergic reaction in pets who are sensitive to the flea saliva. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a severe reaction that affects your pet’s skin and makes them scratch incessantly. 
  • Food allergies — Certain ingredients, usually proteins, in pet food, such as beef, chicken, dairy, and soy, can cause allergic reactions that manifest as skin problems or digestive issues. Note that only 10% of all pet allergies are food allergies, so do not switch your pet’s food until our team has tested your pet and confirmed that their food is the problem.
  • Environmental allergens — Pollen, mold, dust mites, dust, fungi, and other environmental allergens can trigger allergic reactions that cause itching, sneezing, and respiratory distress.

Diagnosis and treatment for pet allergies

Diagnosing pet allergies is a complex process, often involving allergy testing, including skin and blood tests and other diagnostic tests as necessary, and assessing the pet’s history and clinical symptoms. Allergies are not curable, but they can be managed. Our team will likely recommend the following to provide your pet with some relief:

  • Medications — Antihistamines, corticosteroids, or immunosuppressants can help alleviate your pet’s allergic reactions.
  • Allergy shots — For pets with severe allergies who don’t respond to other treatments, we may recommend allergy shots (i.e., immunotherapy). These shots contain small amounts of the allergen and gradually desensitize your pet’s immune system.
  • Trigger avoidance — Once our veterinary team has identified the allergen(s) causing your pet’s reaction, the best approach is to avoid exposure as much as possible. For example, keep your pet indoors during high pollen season or use hypoallergenic bedding to reduce their exposure to environmental allergens. Air purifiers also can help a pet with environmental allergies. 
  • Dietary management — Pets with food allergies may benefit from switching to a hypoallergenic or limited-ingredient diet. If that helps, they can stay on the new diet, or ingredients from the former diet can be added back one at a time to pinpoint the problem ingredient.

Like people, pets suffer from allergies, and pet owners should learn to recognize the signs, understand the causes, and know the management strategies so they can provide relief and improve their pet’s quality of life. If you suspect your pet has allergies, contact our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic team, so we can identify the issue and develop a management plan.