COULD YOUR PET HAVE ALLERGIES?
What do allergies look like in pets?
- Dogs and cats can be allergic to the same things that people are: ragweed, mold, dust, pollens, etc. The majority of people’s histamine releasing cells are in their respiratory tract, which is why people get a sore throat and stuffy nose. But dogs (and cats) are different, the majority of their histamine releasing cells are in their skin and the histamine is activated by skin absorption, the pollens stick to their skin and coat and activate the itch response.
- This itch response can cause trauma to the skin, leading to bacteria and yeast that live on the skin of dogs and cats normally to overgrow and prompting an even stronger itch response.
- In addition, pets with skin allergies from environmental allergens (atopic dermatitis or atopy) have a poor skin barrier that causes their skin to be more “leaky”, more prone to infections and more likely to become dry and flaky.
- The areas of itchiness in dogs with atopy tend to be the elbows, armpits, belly, inside of the thighs, and paws. Itching can cause scratching of these areas as well as licking, chewing, and biting the affected skin.
- In Oklahoma our allergy season can be year-round with our temperate climate but noticing a seasonal pattern can be helpful to rule out other causes of itching such as food allergy.
So is sneezing and coughing caused by allergies?
- It can be, inhaled allergies can cause allergic rhinitis and bronchitis, but other things can cause sneezing and coughing too, and in general most dogs with allergies have a stronger skin itch response than upper respiratory issues.
- Reverse sneezing is an excitatory condition where dogs inhale air rapidly, causing a scary few seconds until they catch their breath again. You can google videos of reverse sneezing to see if this matches what your dog is doing. Reverse sneezing can be worse in periods of allergies.
If I think my dog is allergic, what should I do?
- Support the skin!
- Good therapeutic shampoos increase skin barrier function and help prevent infections and the skin drying out. Bathe at least monthly with one of these shampoos, other shampoos can be more drying, and use tepid to cool water and focus on most affected areas first. If you suspect a seasonal flare you can bathe weekly.
- Good brand of Omega 3 fatty acids such as Nordic Naturals at a higher than typical dose (call for recommended dose), make sure not a formulation that includes Vitamin D. Sensitive Skin diets and some prescription diets may have some of these skin support components, often the OFA level is not high enough to avoid supplements but the diets may be helpful.
- Over the counter antihistamines such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, or Allegra, make sure NO added decongestants (call for recommended dose) may be helpful if your dog has a mild to moderate itch level.
- Monitor for infections! If your pet is itching a lot more than usual, has red or hairless skin, wounds, or scabs your pet should be checked for an overgrowth of bacteria and/or yeast and may need additional oral and/or topical therapies.
- In some cases dogs have recurrent skin infections or a moderate to high itch level that is unresponsive to antihistamines, in these cases other medications may be needed to help prevent infections. Ask your veterinarian if you feel these are needed to maintain your pet’s comfort.
- Referral to a Veterinary Dermatologist is always an option and may be recommended for some pets that can’t be controlled with some of the therapies listed above. Dogs can have intradermal skin testing and often respond well to allergy desensitization therapy.
There are other things that can cause skin issues including mites, fungal infections, etc. so any pet with a skin condition should always be checked by a veterinarian.