Can dogs and cats get allergies?

Dogs and cats can develop allergies just like humans. In Florida, allergies are very common due to our climate. Animals typically show allergic signs in their skin and ears. Itching, scratching, and recurrent ear and/or skin infections are the most common symptoms of allergies. Skin infections cause odor, scabs, hair loss and thickening of the skin. Ear infections cause discharge and itching, and in severe cases cause pain and loss of hearing. A pet with allergies will experience more itching when affected by a secondary infection. Allergies in pets tend to worsen as they get older, and symptomatic treatment tends to become less effective. Allergies are the most common problem that a veterinary dermatologist treats. Allergies are not cured, they are managed. A dermatologist is especially knowledgeable about the treatment options that are available to your pet.

What types of allergies do dogs and cats have?

  • Fleas
  • Food
  • Pollens
  • Molds
  • Mites
  • Insects
  • Dander

Isn’t it normal for dogs and cats to itch?

All dogs and cats will have some itching from time to time. Animals with allergies usually direct their itching to particular areas of the body. Signs of itching include licking, chewing, biting, rubbing, scratching, and in the case of cats, over-grooming. Many pets are itchier at night because they are less distracted. If you feel that itching is affecting your pet’s quality of life or your quality of life (you are not sleeping due to the itching), then this is a problem that should be addressed. It is not normal for there to be odor, scabs, bumps, or excessive hair loss on your pet.

What is allergy skin testing?

Allergy skin testing is a procedure that aids in selecting specific allergens for immunotherapy (allergen specific allergy shots, hyposensitization, desensitization). Veterinary skin testing is similar to human allergy skin testing. Under sedation, the hair is clipped on the side of the body, and a series of injections are given within the skin. A panel of pollens, molds, insects, dander, mites and other environmental allergens are compared to negative and positive controls, and the reactions are graded. These reactions are used to formulate an allergy vaccine specific for that individual pet. This test takes about 30 minutes, and the pet is given another injection to counteract the sedative. Allergen specific injections are the best long term management for environmental allergies. Skin testing for food allergies in dogs and cats is not accurate.

What is blood (serum) allergy testing?

This test involves drawing a blood sample and sending to a laboratory for evaluation for environmental allergies. Although technically this is much easier to perform, most dermatologists feel that the results of blood allergy testing are less accurate than allergy skin testing. This test is usually reserved for those cases in which it is not possible to perform an allergy skin test. This situation occurs when sedation or drug withdrawal is not possible. Occasionally, both skin testing and blood testing will be recommended to more accurately assess an individual patient.

How long does it take for my pet to improve on allergy injections (immunotherapy)?

Most pets will show some improvement in the first 6-9 months of immunotherapy, but some require up to a year to see improvement. Approximately 70% of pets with environmental allergies will improve with immunotherapy, but these responses do vary. Almost all patients will require symptomatic treatment to help with their allergies while waiting for immunotherapy to take effect. Of the patients that respond to immunotherapy, one third will respond well enough that other treatments are greatly reduced or eliminated, one third will respond moderately well and only require other treatments at certain times of the year, and one third will respond, yet still require other treatments. In these pets, the goal is to use safer symptomatic treatment (i.e. reduce or eliminate the use of steroids) or reduce the dosage of other treatments or need to use them less frequently.

Patients receiving immunotherapy need to be rechecked periodically. Secondary infections can still develop and must be treated. These infections can make it appear that the immunotherapy is not working, if the pet is itching due to the infection. Also, periodic consultations allow us to tailor your pet’s immunotherapy for maximum benefit. Sometimes, this requires some trial and error, to see what works best in an individual patient.