Spring is here in all of its glorious splendor. Almost overnight the tulips and daffodils are blooming. Lawns and trees are turning brilliant shades of green. The warmer days beckon us into the garden to plant, play and dine. Your eyes are watery and itchy and you're sneezing in fits. And your fur babies are scratching and licking their fur like there's no tomorrow. Yes... Spring is here in all of its wondrous charm.
Let's talk about those itchy dogs and cats. You didn't really think we were going to address the human allergies, did you? We're a pet company!
Before you reach for the first "anti-itch" product on the shelf, we would like to offer up resources, tips, tricks and alternative options to keep your pets happy and comfy during the season of high pollen.
Types of Allergies
Pets generally suffer from three types of allergies:
- Atopy - reaction to allergens in the environment
- Fleas - reaction to flea bites
- Food - reaction to what they ingest
- Itchy Face
- Itchy Body
- Watery eyes
- Reddish-brown coloration on the feet (from saliva)
- Red skin
- Stinky ears
- Paw licking
- Scabs or sores on the skin
- Loss of hair
- Eye infection
Atopy - Skin Issues
Atopy, also known as Atopic Dermatitis, are the red bumps and spots you see on your pets that quickly turn into infected areas because your dog or cat is scratching them so much. How many times have you been dismayed to discover a big angry, red, oozing spot on your dog, tucked under a matted, wet mess of fur? And all that time puppers spends licking her paws... yep... it's an allergy.
Atopy in Dogs
There are certain breeds of dogs that are more predisposed to skin conditions. These include:
- Chinese Shar-Peis
- Wirehaired Fox Terriers
- Golden Retrievers
- Boston Terriers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Lhasa Apsos
- Scottish Terriers
- Shih Tzus
- West Highland White Terriers
If you have one of these breeds, you're likely already dealing with atopic dermatitis, particularly in the Spring and Summer, and sometimes lasting into Autumn. Allergies tend to show up in dogs between the ages of 6 months and 3 years of age. Some allergies are only seasonal, but some affect pets all year long. And, managing these allergies is a lifelong management concern. Some of the ways to handle allergies include:
- Avoidance of the allergen(s)
- Controlling the itching
- Bathing often and brushing the coat
- Controlling fleas
- Controlling infections from itching
- Immunotherapy, like an allergy vaccine (long term solution)
Atopy in Cats
Purebred cats are more likely to suffer from atopic dermatitis, which usually shows up in cats under 5 years of age. As with dogs, there is no test available that positively identifies the condition. The best way to determine a course of action for dealing with atopy in cats is to schedule a vet visit where the vet will review your cat's history, examine the body and skin, and perform skin tests. These tests will likely include:
- Flea combing
- Microscopic analysis of skin samples and scrapings
- Fungal cultures
- Allergy skin tests (called intradermal allergy tests)
Atopy in cats is also a lifelong process of trial and error to find the best way to manage flare ups and keep them from becoming bigger medical issues.
Fleas - Bug Issues
Here are some Flea Factoids for you.
- Fleas are prolific breeders - this means that 10 fleas can quickly become 250,000 - you read that right - 250,000 in just one month! Ewww and Ick!
- Fleas bite everyone in the family - all animals and humans are fair game for the blood sucking flea.
- Most of the fleas in your home are not on your pet - they are on your furniture, on your carpet, in your beds, on stuffed animals, etc.
- When you see one flea, there are thousands more already making themselves at home - that's because fleas breed quickly and in volume.
Fleas are the masters of adding insult to injury. The injury is the bite itself, which causes your dog or cat to become obsessed with biting, scratching, and licking it. The insult is that all that biting, scratching and licking causes a secondary infection that is much harder to treat. And fleas don't discriminate. They are equally fond of people (think ankle bites) as they are dogs and cats.
Food - Nutrition Issues
Finding out what your dogs or cats are allergic to takes time, patience, and a special limited feeding program, known as a food elimination diet. We recommend you do this food elimination diet in partnership with your veterinarian. The key is to figure out what they CAN eat first by eliminating anything they ate previously that might have caused the reaction. This means foods AND treats. Once the reaction goes away, you can re-introduce foods you eliminated one at a time and see if they have any allergic reaction to it.
The entire process should take about 3 months to complete, which seems like forever to busy pet parents. But your dog or cat will thank you for the patience you show their digestive systems.
Cats are most often allergic to:
- Milk products - Wait... what? Really?
Dogs are most often allergic to:
This might seem overwhelming, given that most foods include beef, chicken, and fish. One thing to try is single protein foods, which helps isolate the allergen producing protein more easily. Be sure to read the label to understand what proteins are in the bag. The one causing the allergy could be buried way down on that label.
Chemical or Natural... or Both?
It is easy to just drop into a local pet store and grab a bottle of anti-itch cream or a flea treatment. The good part of this strategy is it's quick and generally does the job. The bad part is it is expensive, is filled with chemicals you know nothing about, and sometimes mysteriously stops working.
Allergy Relief for Fur Babies
- Clean your home regularly, including dusting, sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming. This one is a freebie!
- Wash your bedding every two weeks - both yours and your pet's.
- Bathe your pet every week or two with a hypoallergenic shampoo
- Clean your pet's paws when you come home from a walk or hike.
- Upgrade your cat litter with a dust free litter in your cat's litter box.
- Replace your air filters - those old ones are full of allergens collected over months in your home! Home Depot has a wealth of air filters in a variety of sizes.
- Buy an air purifier to help remove allergens from your home. Good Housekeeping has their top purifier list so you can get a good one.
- Use an OTC antihistamine, like Benadryl to alleviate itching in dogs and cats. For doggos, drop the pill into a pill pocket or piece of cheese. Cats are more challenging, so you may have to pill them, which takes a bit of practice.
- Add natural remedies to their diet - ingredients like coconut oil, witch hazel and apple cider vinegar to your pet's diet to help them deal with allergies.
- Add supplements to their diet - Omega-3 fatty acids are exceptional with antihistamine response in dogs and cats.
- Use a medicated spray like Tropiclean or Dr. Gold's for topical relief on your dog or cat's skin.
- Keep up with flea treatments - there are so many choices here - topicals, collars and home sprays. Don't let fleas in... they won't want to move out.
So now you have an understanding of what might be causing your dog's or cat's itching and some options for treating it. If you are a nerd like us and need MORE resources, we've got a whole lot of them below.
- Merck Manual Veterinary Manual - Allergies in Dogs
- Merck Manual Veterinary Manual - Allergies in Cats
- BarkPost - How to Kick Your Dog's Springtime Allergies to the Curb
- Rover - Dog Seasonal Allergies; How to Spot Them and How to Help
- Dogtime.com - 8 Natural Remedies for Dogs with Seasonal Allergies
- White Oak Animal Hospital - How to Treat Your Cat's Allergies at Home
- Scollar Personalized Pet Care - Common Questions About Fleas & Ticks
- Fetch by WebMD - Could My Pet Be Allergic To Their Food?
- Modern Dog Magazine - Food Allergies in Dogs
- VCA - Giving Pills to Cats
- Scollar Personalized Pet Care - Scratchy Pets? It's Probably a Flea Allergy