Is your cat hacking and coughing? Does your dog scratch until he’s raw? Do your pet’s eyes look watery? Most of us would attribute these symptoms to hairballs, fleas, and infection but another more common culprit could be the cause. Pets, just like people, can suffer from allergies. Symptom causes and treatments are remarkably similar for our footed friends. The types of allergies are contact (brought on by skin contact with an allergen), inhalant (caused by breathing in allergens), ingested (allergies to food and oral drugs), and sub-dermal (less common, caused by the injection of medication).

  • Causes:

Contact allergens are most commonly caused by your pet’s contact with plants, especially oily ones which will cling to the animal’s fur, carpet, carpet fresheners, newsprint, household cleaners, and plain old dust. Symptoms of contact allergies include rashes, changes in skin color, and sores, especially in the chin, underarm, stomach, and ears. These are the areas that receive the most contact with the allergy-causing substance.

Ingested allergens are most commonly found in the food your pet eats. Surprisingly, it is not the color or preservatives that cause the majority of reactions; instead, it is the meat, grain, or dairy products that are used in the food. This category also includes a reaction to medication given by mouth and those brought on by your pet nibbling on plants. Food allergies take anywhere from seven to ten years to manifest; it is not an instantaneous reaction.

Inhalant allergens are most commonly caused by pollens, molds, dust, tobacco smoke, fragrances, and even something as commonplace as kitty litter. In felines, symptoms include coughing or “hacking”, watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, and sniffling. These symptoms are often misdiagnosed as a respiratory tract or eye infection. Diagnosis of inhalant allergies is also accomplished with a skin patch test.

The last category of allergens is the sub-dermal allergen. These are relatively uncommon and are usually caused by the injection of a medication under the skin. The reaction will subside as the medication is absorbed into the system. A severe reaction can be treated with antihistamines.

  • Treatments:

Treatment for contact allergens may involve removing houseplants from the pet’s vicinity, limiting the animal’s exposure to grass, keeping them away from carpeted areas, even changing their food and water dishes to metal or glass containers. If this doesn’t stop the reaction, your pet may require treatment with steroid-based drugs. Unfortunately, such treatments are not always effective, so the best treatment is to isolate the cause of the reaction and make sure your pet has no (or limited) contact with it.

Treatments for ingested allergens usually start with implementing a bland, hypoallergenic diet. It’s possible to buy hypoallergenic food at many pet supply stores. Giving your pet distilled water to drink is also a good idea because the minerals and chemicals in tap water can cause a reaction.

Treating inhaled allergies will usually include bronchi dilators, steroids, and an antibiotic if an infection is present. Dogs, on the other hand, usually react with skin problems, characterized by scratching, chewing at their skin, and repeated licking of their paws.

Treatments include removal of the irritants, antihistamines, corticosteroids, and immunotherapy.

Sub-dermal allergens can be treated with an antihistamine.

  • Prevention:

By taking the same precautions that you would use for an allergic human, you can prevent or minimize allergic reactions in your pets. First and foremost, isolate the cause of the reaction, remove it from the pet’s vicinity, and talk to your vet about appropriate treatment.