Caitlin UltimoHealth / Symptoms & Solutions

What’s Causing That Itch? How to Know If Your Pet Has Skin Allergies

Just as in people, anything and everything including the very air your pet breathes can cause allergies. For many years, pets’ skin allergies were mainly thought to be triggered by allergens inhaled and absorbed into the respiratory tract, which then caused a reaction in the skin. However, new medical research has recently determined that a defect in the skin barrier is actually the more likely cause. When the allergen comes in direct contact with the skin and is absorbed, it causes a skin reaction. Skin allergies can vary by region or even state to state. For instance, in a southern state like Florida, pet allergies have become less of a seasonal occurrence and more of a year-round headache for most pet parents.

The first steps in evaluating skin allergy causes is to rule out flea allergies and dog or cat food allergies, which are the least invasive and least expensive allergies to evaluate for. Once your pet’s veterinarian has determined that your pet is receiving adequate flea prevention against flea bite-induced skin inflammation or infection, the next step will be a food trial.

Food trials can usually be accomplished on your own by transitioning your pet to a limed ingredient diet (LID) dog food or cat food. LID foods contain fewer ingredients than normal foods, and tend to cause fewer adverse reactions. A typical food trial takes four to six months to officially evaluate if it is the probable allergic cause or if it is something that may be exacerbating your pet’s actual allergies. However, in the sub-tropical climate of Florida and areas with similar weather, food trials may last several months to a year due to the non-seasonality of the various allergens that are circulating year-round in the area.

The final step is to evaluate for contact and environmental allergies. Unfortunately, besides moving out of the state you and your pet live, not much can be done for these types of allergies, as your pet has basically become allergic to the very environment in which she lives. These allergies technically lack a cure, and you are basically left to manage the symptoms with medications. In these situations, you can attempt to reduce the allergen load as much as possible to help alleviate some of your pet’s allergy symptoms.

A veterinary dermatology specialist can formulate allergy or hypersensitivity vaccines to help ease your pet’s symptoms. First, they will complete a skin patch test on your pet using several known allergens in their environment. These will include both common household allergens, such as dust mites, as well as the common outdoor allergens, such as pollens and grasses that are native to the area. By developing these customized allergy vaccines, the goal is to eventually build some desensitization within the immune system. However, as they do in people, allergy injections for pets typically only reduce severity and can only be formulated with a few allergens in one formulation. Therefore, if your pet is allergic to several allergens, the vaccine will only help with their top allergens for the time being.

Skin patch testing can be costly once combined with the vaccine and appointment costs. Although minimally invasive, the procedure does require some sedation and an adequate area of hair to be shaved off your pet’s body. It is advisable to pursue this type of evaluation only if you are prepared for your pet to receive allergy injections for at least a full year’s time. Otherwise, most of the initial work-up costs will not be worth the investment, as the large majority of clinical improvements with immunotherapy will not be seen until the full vaccine series is complete.

Ultimately, there are few things that can be done at home to help your allergic pet live and breathe a little better. You can try wiping your pet’s feet clean after walks outside with moist allergy-relief pet wipes, especially if they walked in grassy and weedy areas. Your veterinarian can prescribe medicated hypoallergenic shampoos to help improve the skin barrier, as well as prescribe medications that ease signs of itching and sneezing. You can even try over-the-counter allergy shampoos to reduce discomfort caused by allergic reactions.

At Chewy, we strongly recommend you consult with your pet’s veterinarian before you try any new products or methods to see what at-home lifestyle changes are safest for you and your allergic pet. It’s an allergen-ridden world out there, so the best you can do is give your pets the help they need so they can live more comfortably in it!