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The Basic Facts About Pets and Allergies

dogIf your pet is scratching, biting, licking or chewing at himself excessively, he may be allergic to something in his environment.

Just as humans suffer from allergies, pets feel discomfort, too. Some react so severely that irritation can lead to infection, so it’s important to get professional help, according to Dr. Bryan Robinson, a veterinarian at Best Friends Animal Hospital in Spring, Texas.

Types of allergies
Allergies can be caused by virtually anything in a pet’s environment — from something in the air to an ingredient in his food or even an object he touches, such as wool.

  • Inhalation allergies result from breathing in substances such as pollen, ragweed and other plants, dust and mold. These allergies can occur at any time of the year, but seem to be prevalent in the spring and summer. Some pets may be genetically predisposed to these allergies.
  • Contact allergies are caused by physical contact with an offending substance. Thin-coated or hairless areas on the pet are usually affected. One of the most common contact allergies is the flea bite allergy. Other common allergens are soaps, insecticides, wool nylon carpets, paint, wood preservatives, poison ivy, oak or grass. Some pets are even allergic to plastic. In the case of certain plants, some contact allergies may be seasonal.
  • Food allergies usually appear as skin problems or gastrointestinal upsets. However, a variety of diseases have similar signs, so only your vet can properly identify a food allergy. If a food allergy is suspected, a veterinarian may recommend a special "elimination trial diet" to be certain that a food substance is the cause of the allergy, and to identify the ingredient to which a pet is allergic.

Diagnosing the problem
Treating and controlling allergic reactions requires properly identifying the source of the irritant, which is best accomplished by a vet. "The most accurate means of identifying the allergens is through a blood test," says Dr. Robinson.

"It’s imperative that dogs undergoing allergy trials be monitored by a vet," Dr. Robinson said, "especially during food trials. Medications such as heartworm are flavored with beef, which can spoil test results.".

Identifying the allergen can be a timely and complex process, though, so it’s important to provide your vet with as much information as possible.

Treating your pet
Once the offending substance has been identified, every effort should be made to eliminate it from the pet’s environment.

If avoidance is not possible, the allergens should be removed as quickly as possible after exposure. Frequent bathing and conditioning is an optimal solution. Contrary to popular belief, bathing often is good for your pet – if the proper hypoallergenic shampoos and conditioners are used. During the height of allergy season, Dr. Robinson recommends a minimum of one to two baths each week. You may want to seek the help of a professional groomer to maintain a frequent bathing schedule.

Dr. Robinson also suggests feeding an allergic dog a dietary supplement of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. "Given in the proper ratios, these acids are incredibly helpful; sometimes they’re effective enough not to require medication." Your vet should prescribe the proper dosages.

Finally, steroids and antihistamines can provide relief, but, as with every medication, there are side effects to be considered. If medications are prescribed, be sure to follow directions thoroughly, and finish the entire course of medication — even if symptoms seem to have disappeared.

With the proper detection and care, your pet will look and feel healthy and allergy-free. For more information about pets and allergies, visit the American Animal Hospital Association’s consumer website at