5 types of pet allergies and how to treat them

Allergies develop when your pet's immune system responds to an allergen. ManyPets outlines five types of pet allergies, where they come from, and how owners can manage them to keep their pets healthy and happy.

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It can be tricky for pet owners to figure out what's wrong with their pets. In order to help keep your pets safe and healthy, ManyPets compiled information about five common allergic reactions that can be triggered in pets.

In the world of domestic animals, allergies work differently; for example, while humans with allergies tend to sneeze, dogs itch. Although similar factors trigger allergies, most pet allergies fall under the "skin allergy" umbrella and manifest as irritations on the animal's skin in the form of dry, itchy, or flaky spots.

At any age, a pet's immune system can create antibodies that recognize and react to specific allergens. These reactions can be sudden and severe. In other cases, particularly with food allergies, the pet's immune system gradually reacts to the allergen after being exposed for some time. This gradual exposure is referred to as sensitization. Subsequent exposure to the same or a related allergen triggers an overreaction. Usually, the immune system defends the pet from infection and sickness, but in the case of allergies, the immune reaction can damage the body. Many everyday or commonplace items can cause problems for your pet, resulting in anything from minor irritation to life-threatening reactions.

Aside from food allergies and flea bites, some of the most common allergen-causing elements in a home include cleaning products, fabrics, petroleum-based products such as certain rubbers and plastics, perfumes and air fresheners, and even cigarette smoke. Allergies change and develop throughout your pet's life, so things that may have once been OK can suddenly cause allergic reactions. To figure out what might be triggering your pet's allergies, pet owners have to keep an eye out for patterns that can help—keeping track of whether your pet has seasonal or year-round itching or if your pet's allergies worsen after certain treats or after you change their diet. These pointers can help pet owners identify allergy triggers.

Habitat allergies

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Habitat allergies are an overreaction of a pet's immune system to an allergen in the environment. These allergens, which can be grass, mold, pollen, or dust, are often inhaled, causing an allergic reaction or atopic dermatitis.

In most situations, these allergies are seasonal, and pet owners may only notice them at particular times of the year. The best way to prevent these allergies is to identify the allergen and keep pets away from the source. Yet, determining the environment's allergen might be a daunting task. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent and manage this allergy. Certain anti-allergy drugs can help suppress a pet's immune response. However, such medications can have side effects and should only be used under the supervision of a veterinarian. 

Plant allergies

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When planning a garden or putting new plants in the house, pet owners need to consider what plants cause pet allergies. Plants like the fiddle leaf fig, which interior decorators and houseplant enthusiasts love, may be highly toxic to dogs. Many indoor, outdoor, and flowering houseplants can trigger an airborne or contact allergic reaction. Pets can have a range of reactions, from minor skin irritations to more significant issues, such as difficulty breathing owing to inhalant allergens in the air.

Dogs with these allergies, for example, often show symptoms like wheezing, sneezing, coughing, itchy, red, or watery eyes, irritated skin, and excessive skin licking. Inhalant plant-based allergies tend to manifest in cats as excessive itching.

Plant allergy treatment can help reduce the symptoms of the allergies, making your pet feel better. These treatment methods include applying topical medication to aid in healing your pet's skin and frequent baths to prevent the absorption of allergens triggering the reaction.

Bug bite reactions

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Allergies are often thought to be caused by things in the environment and pet food. Interestingly the itch from a flea bite is an allergic reaction. Certain proteins in the flea's saliva irritate the pet's skin and cause an allergic reaction. Pets with these allergic reactions often scratch, bite, lick, and chew excessively at the inflamed area.

Fleas can be tough to eradicate once they've infested an environment. Pet owners may need to treat their pets many times and remove them from the infected environment. Effective treatment often targets adult fleas; however, sometimes veterinarians recommend more than one product to kill fleas and stop their life cycle properly.

Following treatment, dog owners are advised to get medicated shampoo prescribed by a vet or over-the-counter pet shampoos that contain oatmeal and pramoxine to treat skin irritation. Dog owners can give antihistamines to their pups in mild cases based on a vet's dosing instructions to stop the allergic reaction and relieve the itch.

Flea bites in cats can cause excessive stretching or biting, resulting in the removal of large tufts of hair and the development of sores on the skin. Monthly preventative treatments can help assuage a cat's propensity for being targeted by fleas, and in some more severe cases corticosteroids may be prescribed by a vet to address the issue.

Acute reactions

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Some allergic reactions are mild; others can be immediate and severe, sometimes even life-threatening. The trigger can be difficult to pinpoint, but the characteristic symptoms are similar, whether environmental, chemical, or pharmaceutical.

These symptoms include itching, red skin swellings known as wheals or hives, a swollen face or snout, excessive salivation or drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases, dogs can go into anaphylactic shock. The common causes of such acute reactions are insect bites (bee stings), antigens in vaccines, medications, chemicals, and environmental pollutants.

The first thing any pet owner should know to do when their pet has such a reaction is to remove the triggering substance if possible. In moderate cases, antihistamines and corticosteroids can suffice, followed by 24-48 hours of strict observation. However, the safest option is to treat the situation as a medical emergency and seek immediate treatment.

Food allergies

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Pets can develop food allergies at any point in their life, even if they have previously consumed food without any problems. Food allergies are sometimes confused with food sensitivities. The key difference is that food allergies reflect a more immediate reaction. Unlike allergies, food sensitivities are a gradual reaction to an irritating element in a pet's food.

Proteins, particularly those derived from dairy, beef, chicken, chicken eggs, soy, or wheat gluten, are the most common allergens in dogs. For cats, any protein component, including vegetable proteins, can be causative. Each time a pet eats food containing these substances, the antibodies react with the antigens triggering the symptoms. Finding the offending food is the best way to prevent these reactions.

The best approach to diagnosing a food allergy is to change your pet's diet under your veterinarian's supervision. This is often referred to as an elimination diet. Elimination diets take several weeks to complete in order for all elements of the potentially offending food to work its way entirely from your pet's digestive system. When pet owners identify the offending ingredient in their pet's food, they should construct a balanced diet that does not contain it. Food allergies cannot be cured, but they can be successfully managed with a hypoallergenic diet.

This story originally appeared on ManyPets and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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