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PetPourri: An Itch, a Scratch and a Sneeze – Helping Your Pet Survive Allergy Season

By Ashlee Verba

For most people, spring is a time for outdoor activities and sunshine. For allergy sufferers, it’s a time of blooming sneezes and Benadryl, and humans aren’t the only creatures susceptible to that stuffy head, itchy eye feeling. In fact, cats (an estimated 15% in the United States) as well as dogs also suffer the discomforts of allergies caused by a variety of sources, be it food, inhalants, mold, pollen or dander. Constant scratching, watery eyes, sneezing, inflammation and skin irritation are all signs that your pet is suffering from the perils of the season. The good news is, like human allergies, pet allergies are treatable, no matter the type or source.



A contact allergy is a reaction to something your pet comes into contact with. For cats, a common cause is plants, usually those with oily leaves. Carpet or carpet cleaners, dust, household cleaners, newspapers/magazines or even kitty litter can also cause adverse reactions. The giveaway sign in both animals is skin irritation, including hives, bumps or blisters, constant scratching and/or patches of missing fur. In cats, skin irritation is most noticeable on the ears, chin, stomach, inner thighs and underneath their tail. Dogs exhibit these problems on their stomach, feet or snout. A simple dose of Benadryl can usually eliminate the problem. The general rule-of-thumb is 25 milligrams of medicine per 15 pounds of body weight, but talk to your vet first. He can prescribe a topical treatment or, in severe cases, a steroid shot.


Food allergies are less common but still occur. Table scraps are rarely healthful; however, human food isn’t the only culprit. Your feline could be allergic to the poultry products in their food (most commonly turkey or chicken), while dogs may be allergic to either the protein source or grains, like wheat, gluten, corn or soy. If your cat is losing weight, picking out certain pieces of food, has a bloated belly, vomits after eating and/or there is blood in their urine or stool, they are most likely suffering a food allergy. Only 15% of allergy suffering dogs are allergic to food, but the tell tale signs for a dog are itching, especially of the face, feet, limbs and anus, ear problems or skin infections that react to antibiotics but reoccur once that treatment has stopped, vomiting and softer, more frequent stools. Try switching to a food with a different grain content or protein source for 6 weeks. If food does turn out to be the problem, it is recommended to rotate the food periodically, as more exposure to a certain ingredient can fuel allergies. If symptoms persist, your vet may want to administer a prescription food.

Mold is another possible source for allergies, mainly (if not exclusively) in dogs, as it produces a poisonous byproduct, myotoxin, that can affect the immune system and cause itching. It will grow anywhere there is an abundance of moisture with a lack of ventilation, and has been known to grow on the wheat, corn or peanut hulls used in dog food.  Make sure to store your dog’s food in a dry area, and if you smell anything out of the ordinary, look the food over; if there’s any doubt, throw it out.


Inhalant allergies occur when tiny airborne particles are breathed in, irritating the nasal passages and upper respiratory system, which results in sneezing, watery eyes and difficulty breathing. Constant watering of the eyes is the giveaway sign that your animal is having an allergic reaction to something in the air. Pollen allergies are common, but the everyday source of inhalant allergies are household aerosol sprays/cleaning products. The best treatment for inhalant allergies is a vet’s prescription for pills or drops.


Fleas are the number one instigators of allergic reactions in dogs and cats. If you see bumps on the skin, constant scratching or loss of fur, check to see if there are black things resembling dirt scattered on your pet’s skin. If there are, your vet must first treat the allergic reaction with a topical treatment or medication, then treat the fleas once the skin is healed. Prescription flea treatments are recommended more than over-the-counter ones, as is the treatment of your home so your beloved companion doesn’t get re-infected.

Bites and stings are another problem, often resulting in inflammation. If your curious cat or canine returns home with an inflamed…anything, try a dose of Benadryl.

Other Pets

Like humans, dogs may also be allergic to other pets, especially cats. A protein called FelD1 (pronounced Feldy One) is found in cat saliva and, when dry, flakes off the cat’s fur into your home. Being so sticky and lightweight, FelD1 can attach itself to just about anything, including nasal passages. Both potent and resistant, it can remain active in a home for at least 10 years. Dreadfully, the best solution is bathing your cat as frequently as they’ll tolerate.  If your cat absolutely rejects bathing, products like Allerpet C or DanderSeal help seal the allergen to your cat’s body, although they aren’t as effective as a good scrubbing. You may also consider Allersearch X-Mite powder (Aller-Caire; 800-547-8095), which is supposed to neutralize the allergen in areas where your dog comes into contact.

Common Treatments

Identifying the allergen that’s causing so much fuss is only half the battle. Treating it is another. Here are a few treatments that may alleviate some symptoms.

  • Avoidance: Avoidance will rarely eliminate the problem on its own, but can be used in conjunction with other treatments. Skin testing is required in order to pinpoint what exactly to avoid.
  • Topical Treatments: Topical treatments like shampoos, anti-itch creams and Hydrocortisone may provide immediate relief but are rarely effective long-term. Just be aware that most pets will try to lick lotion off. A head cone may be necessary but, if possible, simply apply the lotion to an area they can’t lick, like the neck.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These help reduce the effects of an allergic reaction in some, but not all dogs and cats. Omega 3s have few side effects and are usually used in conjunction with other treatments.
  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines like Benadryl have proven to effectively control allergies in up to 70% of cats and 30% of dogs. The most common side-effect is drowsiness, so don’t be alarmed if your pet seems groggy after medicating. Every animal will respond differently, so if one type isn’t effective, work with your vet to find one that is.
  • Steroids: Steroids, either by injection or pill form, have proven to be very effective in the relief of severe inflammation and itching. However, because of their intensity, they should be used as a last resort, and veterinary consulting is a must.
  • Epi-Pen: Less common but more severe allergic reactions in dogs include intense hives, facial swelling and anaphylaxis. If untreated, anaphylaxis can result in shock, respiratory and/or cardiac failure and death. If any of these intense reactions occur in your dog, talk with your vet immediately. He may prescribe an epi-pen, a one-time dose of epinephrine to be injected upon an allergic reaction.

Finally, no matter what course of action you take, always consult with your vet before medicating your animal. Pet allergies are a real issue; they can affect your pet’s quality of life as much as yours. So brighten your best bud’s day by getting him or her on an effective treatment regime, go out on the town, and don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.

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