Click here to learn more.
Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
There are few things worse than an itchy dog or
cat — so uncomfortable, constantly licking and chewing at his paws and flanks, and rubbing his face on the sofa or carpet to try to relieve the discomfort. Just miserable.
Allergies are one of the more common problems I see in pets, and according to data from pet health insurance companies, it’s the No. 1 medical condition that dog owners seek
treatment for. My own Gracie, a Lab-Pit Bull mix, is one of the sufferers.
The incidence of pets afflicted with allergies varies throughout the country and is often related to climate or season. Common causes of allergic reactions are flea bites; pollens, molds, grasses, trees, weeds, dust and dust mites; and certain
Some pets are extremely allergic to flea saliva and have a condition called
flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). When fleas bite these pets, saliva gets into the animal’s bloodstream, causing an allergic reaction. The bite of a single flea can send some sensitive pets into a scratching, licking or chewing frenzy.
Dogs with FAD are usually itchy on the back half or third of the body. Cats often have crusty areas around the head and neck, but the back half of the body can also be itchy.
Dust, mold and pollen are environmental allergens. They typically occur only at certain times of the year, depending on what’s in bloom or particular climate conditions, and they often cause seasonal itching. Your veterinarian may refer to this type of allergy as an inhalant allergy or
Finally, some pets develop allergies to certain proteins such as beef, chicken or soy. Pets with food allergies typically experience
itching all year long, and some may have gastrointestinal signs.
Sometimes veterinarians know from an examination or a pet's medical history what’s causing the itchiness. We see flea dirt, for instance, or the scratching is seasonal, suggesting that environmental allergens may be the problem.
When we don’t have any clues, though, diagnosing allergies is a process of elimination. We make sure the pet is on a good
flea-control program; we do skin scrapings to check for other possible parasites. We also look for bacterial or yeast infections, which can contribute to itchiness in dogs and
cats with allergies; and we may even start the pet on an elimination diet to rule out food allergies.
When we suspect a
food allergy, we may recommend feeding a food that contains only ingredients the pet has never eaten before. This elimination diet can help determine if a particular ingredient is causing a pet’s itching and scratching. If the signs go away after 12 weeks of feeding only the hypoallergenic diet (no treats or other foods that might contain allergenic substances), we start to add ingredients back into the diet one by one until it’s clear which one is causing the problem. Then it’s just a matter of finding a food for your pet that doesn’t contain the dietary troublemaker.
itching stops, we know we’re doing something right, but we still have to figure out what’s actually causing the problem. In the case of fleas, your pet may need a different flea preventive more suited to his lifestyle. For instance, water-loving
dogs who spend every day in the pool may have poor results with topical treatments, even if the substance is water resistant. In those cases, we may suggest an oral product that works more rapidly. If you are applying or giving the product only when you see fleas, we’ll probably advise that you use it more regularly, even if you don’t see evidence of fleas.
Whatever you’re using, make sure it’s appropriate for your pet. Many products that are safe for dogs aren’t safe at all for cats. Especially if you have both a dog and a cat, read the label carefully before you give anything to make sure you haven’t accidentally picked up the wrong product.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
A German Shepherd is being hailed as a
hero for leading firefighters to two young
children in his family's burning…
Eating feces is a weird but common
canine habit. Thankfully, there are ways
to stop the disgusting behavior.
From contact lenses to eye prosthetics,
vet medicine has seen many innovations
that help canines with eye problems.
Mikkel Becker explains the importance of
rewards, a crate and the 15-minute rule
for a successful potty pattern.
Secondhand smoke isn't just hazardous
for humans — it can cause many of the
same illnesses in pets, too.
From adopting on a whim to overlooking
black cats, here are the errors people
often make when rescuing shelter cats.
The APBT has a formidable reputation
and appearance, but he is meant to be a
dog who loves and accepts people.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
Visit HealthyPet magazine for interviews with pet-loving celebrities, health advice from our experts, training tips and…
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.