Allergies are a common condition for both dogs and cats. However, our pets often suffer from allergies a bit differently than we do. Most of the time when we suffer from allergies, we have respiratory symptoms, like sneezing, runny eyes, a runny nose, nasal or sinus congestion and the like. Though this can happen to pets, a far more common manifestation of allergies for pets is skin disease with symptoms like itchiness, hair loss, red skin, scabs and “hot spots”.
What can you do for your allergic pet?
- Flea control is an absolute essential for both dogs and cats with skin allergies. Not only are fleas the most common allergy we see in pets, not seeing live fleas on your pet does not rule out the possibility of a flea allergy. It takes only one flea bite to set off a flea allergy and pets, especially cats, can be very good at grooming themselves to remove evidence of any fleas. Even if fleas are not the underlying cause of your pet’s allergy, if your pet gets fleas the allergy will likely get worse. Be sure to use a safe effective flea product and follow all label directions carefully. Never use flea products labelled only for dogs on your cat.
- Frequent bathing is often helpful for pets with allergies. Bathing removes allergens (allergy-causing substances) that accumulate on the skin and hair coat. Bathing as often as every 3 to 4 days is recommended for pets with allergies. Contrary to previously held beliefs, frequent bathing does not damage or dry your pet’s skin. Medicated shampoos containing aloe and/or oatmeal are usually good choices for pets with allergies. I also like shampoos that contain phytosphingosine because it can actually help restore the skin’s protective barrier. When you do bathe your pet, allowing the shampoo to sit in contact with your pet’s skin and hair for at least 5-10 minutes once lathered is ideal. Be sure to thoroughly rinse shampoo from your pet’s hair afterwards.
- Wiping your pet’s feet when he returns from an outing may be beneficial also, especially for those dogs that chew excessively at their feet. Pet wipes or baby wipes work well for this purpose and can be kept near the door for easy use.
- Similarly, soaking your dog’s feet in a moisturizing shampoo and water for 5-19 minutes regularly can be helpful as well for those pets that chew at their feet. Poseidon iodine diluted in water can be useful for this purpose for some dogs also.
- Feeding a high quality well-balanced diet is always preferable. However, it is even more important for pets with allergies. Pets with true food allergies may require specialized diets that do not contain the offending ingredient though. Grains in pet foods are often blamed for pet allergies but your pet is just as likely (if not more likely) to be allergic to beef, poultry, chicken or another ingredient in the food. When contemplating a diet for an allergic pet, try to choose a diet which contains a meat source and a carbohydrate source which your pet has never eaten before.
- Adding fatty acids such as EPA and DHA to your pet’s diet can help improve your pet’s skin health. There is some evidence that sources containing fish oil or seaweed (kelp) may be more beneficial than soy or flaxseed sources. However, there may be instances where soy or flaxseed is the best option (such as if your pet is allergic to fish as a food ingredient.)
- Though probiotics are usually thought of aids for digestive health, a large part of the immune system is based in the intestinal tract. Probiotics (Fortiflora, Prostora, etc.) can help strengthen the immune system and keep it healthy. As a result, probiotics may be useful for pets with allergic conditions also.
Some pets with allergies will need veterinary care periodically. Bacterial and fungal skin infections are common complications of skin allergies and may become severe enough to require antibiotic or anti-fungal medications. Additional medications may be necessary as well, depending on your individual pet. If your veterinarian provides instructions on feeding, bathing or otherwise caring for your pet, those instructions should be followed in favour of the recommendations listed above because your veterinarian’s advice will be tailored to your pet.