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How to Know if Your Dog or Cat Has a Food or Environmental Allergy

Dogs and cats can develop allergies to their food, something in their environment and even to bug bites. Here’s what to look out for—and what kind of treatment may be necessary.

A white and beige kitten is sleeping on a checkered white, blue and red blanket, while a small, sleeping brown dog with pointy ears is lying on top of the kitten with its face.

You and your pet have a lot in common. You both love long walks and unscheduled naps. And just like you, your animal companion can suffer from allergies and allergic reactions.

“Allergies in our pet dogs and cats are actually incredibly common,” says Dr. Sharon Quinn, owner of the Nelson Animal Hospital in Burlington, Ont., and co-founder of Smart.Vet. “However, in many cases the symptoms of allergic disease differ from ours, and as a result many pet owners do not recognize that the symptoms are due to an allergy.”

How to spot allergy symptoms in your pet

A pollen allergy may cause sneezing and itchy, watery eyes in humans, while a pet’s allergy to the same substance may manifest as red, itchy skin, lesions, hair loss and recurrent skin and ear infections.

If your pet shows any of these symptoms—or is scratching, chewing, rubbing or scooting—make an appointment with your vet, who will first rule out the possibility of external parasites, which can cause similar symptoms.

Once an allergy is confirmed, the vet will narrow down whether it’s an environmental or food allergy. In dogs, the most prevalent food irritants are dairy products, beef, chicken and wheat, while for cats it’s usually beef, fish and chicken.

In terms of environmental allergies, Quinn says dogs and cats can react to any number of things, "from airborne allergies like pollen, to items that they may have contact with, like wool fabric.”

Treatment options for your pet

Many environmental allergens are seasonal. Tests can determine what your pet is allergic to and your vet can prescribe immunotherapy, allergy shots or medication to alleviate symptoms Quinn says.

More severe allergic reactions, called acute hypersensitivity reactions, require immediate medical attention from a veterinarian, the closest emergency clinic or a veterinary telemedicine service, says Quinn. The most common hypersensitivity reactions are to bee stings and insect or spider bites, Quinn says. “These can result in acute swelling, hives, and other symptoms such as vomiting or collapse.”

Keep an over-the-counter remedy handy

Quinn advises keeping a diphenhydramine (Benadryl) on hand for these occasions (don’t forget to check the expiry date periodically). This is especially important for people who travel to remote locations where a veterinarian is not easily accessible. “Make sure that your medication does not also contain decongestant—the ‘allergy and sinus’ versions are not safe for pets,” she says.

Speak with your vet about the proper dosage for your pet. Write the information down and keep it inside the box in case of an emergency where a veterinarian is not immediately available.

The good news is that most chronic allergies in pets are very manageable. Patience, of course, may be required while trying to figure out what works best for your dog or cat.

Get the Right Coverage

Pet insurance can help offset the cost of visits to the vet and treatments. CAA Pet Insurance offers three different plans, ranging from compact and intermediate to luxury. Learn more about choosing the right coverage for your pet and to get a quote.

Image credit: Olga Novikova/iStock