Why is My Pet Itchy? Pet Allergies

Spring is Ruff—Seasonal Allergies and Pets

Many pet owners assume their itchy dog or cat simply needs a bath or a flea treatment.

However, before you pick up the pet shampoo and send your dog or cat careening under the bed, consider this—sudden, intense skin scratching, chewing, and licking can mean more than a dirty dog or a funky feline. More likely, your pet is itching to tell you about their seasonal allergies.

While you may not think allergies warrant a visit to Madison Veterinary Emergency, your pet’s intense discomfort, misery, and non-stop scratching can become an urgent issue.


Seasonal allergies in pets

As the air warms, trees bloom, and grasses grow, pets are susceptible to the same environmental allergens as their owners. Common irritants such as pollen, weeds, mold, and mildew can trigger histamine release, which causes internal inflammation that is expressed through the skin and—less commonly—the upper respiratory tract. While pets can be allergic to other environmental substances (e.g., dust, food, and flea bites), only seasonal allergies stick to a schedule, appearing in early spring, continuing through the summer, and then resolving as the temperatures cool.


Seasonal allergy signs in pets

In addition to incessant, tag-jingling scratch-a-thons, pets can express their allergic discomfort with a multitude of signs and behaviors, including:

  • Frequent biting or chewing
  • Hair pulling
  • Repetitive licking
  • Visible skin irritation (e.g., redness, crusting, or sores)
  • Self-inflicted wounds
  • Greasy, dry, or flaky coat
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Restlessness or anxiousness
  • Lethargy
  • Rubbing the face, ears, and neck
  • Irritability
  • Eye or nasal discharge
  • Sneezing or coughing

Pet allergy home remedies are typically ineffective, or provide only temporary relief—and you must never attempt at-home treatments or give your pet over-the-counter medication without your veterinarian’s approval. For an accurate diagnosis and fast, safe, and effective relief for itchy pets, schedule an appointment with your regular veterinarian as soon as possible.


Seasonal allergy diagnosis for pets

If your veterinarian suspects seasonal allergies, they’ll ask specific questions about your pet’s behavior and perform a complete physical examination, looking for secondary bacterial infections, fleas or flea dirt, and skin changes (e.g., thickening, breakdown, alopecia) that may indicate an underlying hormone disorder. They may also recommend additional testing, such as a skin impression, biopsy, or blood work.

True allergy diagnosis (i.e., identifying each individual allergen) can be a lengthy, expensive process. If your pet has severe allergies, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for the following tests:

  • Skin testing (i.e., intradermal skin testing) — Small doses of common allergens are injected underneath the skin to assess any reaction.
  • Serum testing — Some veterinarians offer this test, which screens your pet’s blood for allergen antibodies. Serum testing can be more affordable than skin testing, but can be less specific.

Fortunately, mild to moderately allergic pets can be well-managed with empirical treatment (i.e., treating the symptoms and blocking the itch until allergy season ends) that your regular veterinarian prescribes and supervises.


Seasonal allergy management for pets

Allergies cannot be cured, but they can be controlled. While untreated pets are miserable and can suffer from recurrent skin and ear infections, well-managed pets can live normally and comfortably. Each pet’s treatment plan will vary, but typically will include:

  • Rapid relief — Medication may be prescribed or administered to quickly decrease any inflammation. 
  • Long-lasting relief — Prescription monthly injections or daily oral medication can effectively block your pet’s desire to itch, so they remain comfortable all season. 
  • Topical treatments — Medicated shampoos, sprays, conditioners, or wipes may be recommended to soothe your pet’s skin, restore a healthy skin barrier, and reduce allergens on your pet’s coat.


How to help your allergic pet

In addition to veterinary treatment, you can help your pet cope with seasonal allergies in a variety of small ways, including:

  • Stay up to date on regular veterinary care — Routine wellness visits help ensure your pet is healthy and their immune system is strong.
  • Groom your pet — Regular brushing and bathing removes dead hair and skin cells, stimulates circulation, and redistributes natural oils. Routine at-home or professional grooming can also help detect hidden changes in your pet’s skin, such as bumps, irritation, and hair loss.
  • Address allergy signs quickly — Waiting for their irritation to subside can leave your pet vulnerable to worsening irritation, inflammation, and infection. Seek veterinary care at the first allergy sign.
  • Feed a well-balanced diet — Food is medicine, so feed your pet a healthy well-balanced diet with no artificial preservatives or dyes. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a customized diet.
  • Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids — Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, are a natural anti-inflammatory that nourishes the skin and coat. Ask your veterinarian for dosing instructions.

Like their owners, pets with seasonal allergies can feel their life is on “paws” during the spring and summer months. But, with proper veterinary care and diligent management, everyone can again enjoy the great outdoors—and more restful nights. Contact your pet’s regular veterinarian, and say “Gesundheit” to seasonal allergies.


How do you know when it’s time for an emergency visit?

While many issues associated with allergies are long-term discomforts that can be effectively treated, it is important to know when your pet’s allergies warrant a trip to the emergency clinic. Your pet may need immediate attention when hot spots, or skin infections, are present along with cases of extreme hair loss and skin irritation. Emergency care can make all the difference to soothe your pet’s discomfort and put your own worries to rest.

Madison Veterinary Emergency is equipped for all of your pet’s urgent and emergent needs. If your pet is experiencing an emergency, contact us for prompt and professional veterinary care.