Pet Talk: Canines, cats can be afflicted with allergies

Pet Talk: Canines, cats can be afflicted with allergies

By Sarah Netherton/University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

Just like people, pets may be afflicted with allergies. According to Gary Brummet, a primary care veterinarian at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the UI in Urbana, pets' allergies most commonly arise from environmental allergens, such as pollen, mold spores, house dust and mites.

"The pet's immune system overreacts to something that is otherwise considered innocuous," Brummet said. "The pet may not have a reaction the on the first encounter, yet when exposed a second and subsequent times, the immune system can mount an inappropriately strong response."

Some breeds are predisposed to allergies. In dogs, these include Westies, Labrador retrievers, Dalmatians, golden retrievers and boxers. However, any dog, regardless of breed, may develop allergies. Most allergies are seen in younger dogs between 6 months and 4 years of age. There are no particular cat breeds that appear to have a predisposition to allergens.

In addition to environmental allergens, allergic reactions in animals may be caused by food allergies, fungi and parasites, such as fleas and mites.

How can a pet owner know if their pet has an allergy to something? Brummet explains that most allergic reactions in pets manifest as a problem in the skin.

Animals can have an immediate reaction, with signs including facial swelling, hives or bumps on the skin. Animals with allergies commonly itch and lick their paws and redness as well as skin lesions may be seen.

A veterinarian can determine the cause of the allergy so appropriate treatment can be given to relieve the symptoms.

"Diagnosis of an environmental allergy is based on a detailed history as well as serum or skin testing," Brummet said. "These procedures will give the veterinarian information on what the pet is in contact with and if its environment is causing the reaction."

Currently, there is no good test for food allergies. To rule out a food allergy, the veterinarian can prescribe a strict hypoallergenic diet. These special diets contain carbohydrates and protein that are not common in commercial diets, such as duck, lamb and kangaroo meat. The prescription diet is recommended for a trial period of eight weeks to see if the change in food brings about any improvement.

Treatment of an environmental allergen can involve allergy shots that are tailored to what the pet is specifically allergic to. If the allergen is parasitic in nature (fleas or mites), then treatment involves eliminating the parasite.

Brummet explains that avoiding allergic triggers may be difficult, especially if you are unsure of what the animal is reacting to. Special filters may be helpful in reducing house dust and allergens in the air. Bathing may also be beneficial to the pet if there is something on the skin that is causing discomfort.

An archive of pet columns from the UI College of Veterinary Medicine is available atvetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/. Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy, beuoy@illinois.edu.

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