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Seasonal Allergies and Your Pet

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Spring is here at last, and with it comes growing plants, blooming flowers, buzzing insects – and your dog scratching and scratching in the corner. Although pets sometimes cause allergies, they can also suffer from allergies, too. This time of year can cause your pet the same misery as any allergy sufferer. Yet with accurate diagnosis and timely treatment, pets – like people – can live more comfortable lives.

Seasonal allergies are more common in dogs than in cats. The allergy is often an inherited trait that first shows up between the ages of 1 and 3 years. Most allergic substances, or allergens, are inhaled but some are ingested. Animals tend to experience skin disorders rather than sneezing and watery eyes, and once exposed, they usually becomes extremely itchy. You might notice the typical signs: licking the feet, rubbing the face and frequent scratching. Your pet might also develop skin or ear infections.

Common Types of Seasonal Allergies

Two common seasonal allergies may affect your dog.

  • Flea allergies: The most common cause of allergies is the flea. Pets react to flea saliva and just one flea bite can result in a severe allergic reaction.

  • Atopy or Allergic Inhaled Dermatitis: Common allergens that cause this reaction are ragweed, pollen, house dust, house dust mites, mold, animal dander, feathers, grasses, trees, and shrubs. The allergens can be inhaled, pass through the pads of the feet, and even possibly ingested. Since these compounds are in abundance everywhere, it is apparent that preventing exposure in the first place is impossible.

    Diagnosis

    Diagnosing the exact cause can be difficult. If the cause cannot be determined based on physical exam findings or history, your veterinarian may want to do some allergy testing. This involves either submitting a blood sample to a laboratory for analysis or intradermal testing. In intradermal testing, numerous allergens are injected just under the skin and a reaction is noted at 15 minutes and again at 30 minutes. If the reaction is positive, it will produce a wheal, a hive-like swelling of the skin.

    Treatment

    Once the cause of the allergy has been determined, appropriate treatment is possible. The safest and most effective treatment is hyposensitization or immunotherapy (allergy injections), which can be custom-designed for your pet's specific allergy. When given periodic injections of low levels of an allergen, your pet should slowly become less sensitive to the allergen. Unfortunately, this may take up to a year to be effective, may be costly, or may not work at all.

    Another option, and unfortunately the most popular, is the consistent use of steroids to suppress the effects of the allergy. Though nearly always effective, steroids have serious side effects and should only be used if allergy injections do not help.

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