Its spring time again; the time of year when the flowers are blooming and the bees are buzzing. The idea of spring is wonderful, but sometimes allergies can make it an unpleasant time of year. Just like us humans, our pets can experience allergies too. So what should you look out for and what can you do?
What is an allergy?
An allergy is the body over-reacting to a particular substance, known as an allergen. Most allergens are proteins from plants, insects, animals or foods. The immune system normally protects the body from infection, but when it comes to allergies, the immune response can actually be harmful to the body. Over multiple exposures to the allergen, the body’s immune system becomes sensitised and subsequent exposure to the allergen can result in an over-reaction.
When the allergen protein molecules enter the body, they bind to antibodies and then attach to cells known as mast cells. The mast cells are responsible for releasing potent chemicals such as histamines which cause localised inflammation, resulting in the classic allergy symptoms of redness, swelling and itching.
Allergy symptoms in cats and dogs
Cats are dogs can both be affected by allergies with the most common allergy symptom being itching. This can be either localised (in one area) or generalised (all over the body).
Other allergy symptoms include;
- Sneezing, coughing and wheezing
- Runny discharge from the eyes and nose
- Ear infections
- Gastrointestinal upset resulting in vomiting and diarrhoea
- Swollen, sensitive paws
- Paw chewing
- Snoring due to a scratchy, sore throat
- Constant licking
One of the most common allergies that our furry friends can experience are skin allergies, also known as allergic dermatitis. The three main causes of allergic dermatitis include;
Flea allergy dermatitis
This is an allergic reaction to fleabites in which the animal has an allergic reaction to the saliva of the flea. This reaction causes cats and dogs to feel extremely itchy and their skin may become red, inflamed and scabbed.
In order to avoid flea allergy dermatitis, flea control is essential and thankfully there are easy to use, monthly flea preventatives and home treatment options available. If severe itching is causing your pet discomfort a veterinarian may prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids to block the allergen reaction and provide some relief.
These can also result in itchy skin, particularly in the ears and paws and may be accompanied by gastrointestinal upset. See below for further information.
These are known as inhalant allergens. The main inhalant allergens include dust mites, mould and mildew and pollens from trees, grass and weeds. While the pollens are often related to seasonal itching; dust mites, mould and mildew occur year round. Pets can exhibit the classic hay fever symptoms but often develop itchy skin also known as atopic dermatitis.
It isn’t possible to permanently cure atopic dermatitis but it can be controlled. The pet should be protected as much as possible from the allergen e.g. kept inside when pollen levels are high. Another option is regular bathing with a hypoallergenic shampoo. This can help to sooth itchy, inflamed skin and rinse the allergens away from the coat. If the allergic reaction is deemed to be severe enough, a veterinarian may prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids to block the reaction.
Kitty litter can be another source of allergens. If your cat appears irritated when using her litter box, there’s a good chance she has a litter allergy. Often, cats may be bothered by their litter’s dust or fragrance. Simply changing the type of litter that your cat uses may result in a big improvement. Silica based litters are the best option for allergy prone cats. The silica gel formulas are made of silica gel crystals and are virtually dust and fragrance-free.
Sometimes the irritation caused by skin allergies can cause your furry friend to scratch, bite and lick at the skin, opening him up to the risk of secondary infections by yeast and bacteria. These in turn, may require further treatment with an appropriate antibiotic. Early detection is the key here to avoid a costly vet bill and to make sure these allergic reactions don’t result in more substantial infections.
Food allergies aren’t actually that common in animals, but those that do experience food allergies can have a range of responses from the immune system including itching, poor skin and coat, ear and foot infections, gastrointestinal signs and in rare cases, anaphylaxis. Like in humans, if not treated, an anaphylactic reaction can be fatal, so contact your vet immediately if you have any concerns.
Many owners that say their pet has a food allergy, actually mean that their pet has a food sensitivity/intolerance.
Some common examples of ingredients that cause a sensitivity include eggs, corn, wheat, soy, dairy, beef, lamb and chicken.
Food allergies don’t tend to respond well to corticosteroid or other medical treatments. Working alongside your veterinarian, you will discover how to manage your pet’s symptoms and hopefully be able to identify the ingredient causing the reaction.
A contact allergy is the least common type of allergy and is the result of direct contact with the allergen. Pyrethrins in flea collars, pesticides used in the garden or synthetics in carpets and bedding can all cause contact allergies. Luckily contact allergies are easily treated by simply removing the allergen (once identified).
Sometimes overly curious cats and dogs can receive a bee sting, commonly on the face, in the mouth or on the paw. The reaction to the bee venom can vary depending on the location of the sting, the number of stings and if your pet has an allergy to bee venom.
Lucky most cats and dogs will just get a local reaction, including redness, mild swelling, heat and potentially itching at the sting site. This usually goes away on its own within a day or so.
If you feel that your pet needs a little more help to feel comfortable, you can try to find the implanted bee stinger and remove it by scraping a credit card along the skin. Help reduce swelling by applying a cool compress to the area. You can also mix baking soda with water to create a paste that can be applied to the skin to help neutralize the acidic venom.
More serious reactions usually develop within 10 – 30 minutes of the sting and include swelling of the eyes and face, which can lead to difficulty breathing. Other serious signs include drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness and collapsing. In rare instances, these more serious signs may only occur 12 to 14 hours after the sting. If your pet experiences these more severe signs, it’s important to get to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
We all have to deal with allergies at this time of year so keep an eye on your furry friends as they may need a bit of help coping. Often an allergy, once identified, can be easily removed or dealt with making your pets life a little bit easier and making play time more enjoyable for both of you.