Diagnosing and Treating Allergies in Pets

By Fred Tucker, DVM, Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital

Dogs and cats, just like people, can have allergies. Unlike people, the first sign of an allergy in your dog or cat will likely be itchy ears, excessive chewing around the body or purple stained feet. Your pet may be allergic to a variety of things generally falling into one of three categories:
  • flea allergies,
  • environmental allergies (mold, pollen, grass) and
  • food allergies.
To diagnose and treat allergies, the first step is visiting your pet’s veterinarian and discussing the symptoms you see at home. This will help your veterinarian determine the best course of action to get allergies under control.
For mild, seasonal allergies, your veterinarian may give some simple medications to get your dog or cat through the difficult times of year. For more severe or year-round allergies, your veterinarian may recommend full allergy testing. And while it takes a while to definitively diagnose some allergies, you and your veterinarian can make your pet much more comfortable and much less itchy with some time and patience.
The first step in definitively diagnosing allergies is appropriate flea control. In the flea-allergic dog and cat, just a single flea bite can cause weeks of itchiness. So even if you have never seen a flea, your pet may still have flea allergies. If your pet remains itchy, he or she may have an allergy to something in the environment (such as molds, pollens or grasses).
Diagnosing environmental allergies in dogs and cats has its differences. In dogs, this is best done through skin testing (identical to that done in humans). Things are a bit more challenging in cats, but a diagnosis may be accomplished through a combination of blood tests and skin testing. The treatment? Identical to that in humans: allergy shots. Don’t worry: The shots are easy, are usually very well-tolerated by dogs and cats, and can make many allergic conditions much better.
Still scratching? Your dog or cat may be experiencing food allergies. While there has been a great deal of talk about wheat/gluten allergies in the last several years, there is no scientific evidence that such allergies are a significant problem in dogs and cats. Instead, you will be talking to your veterinarian about a novel protein diet to diagnose food allergies.
Allergies can be frustrating, but with some diligence, you and your veterinarian can help your dog or cat to live a much more comfortable and itch-free life.

If you're concerned your pet may be suffering from allergies, contact PVH's small-animal department. Pilchuck offers comprehensive care for dogs and cats, along with 24/7 emergency services: 360.568.3113.