Does Your Pet Have Allergies? What to Know and What to Do

Does Your Pet Have Allergies? What to Know and What to Do

By Dwight Alleyne, DVM

Allergies in your pets can be quite a nuisance. They can be gradual, but sometimes they seem to appear out of nowhere. Suddenly, you have a cat with itchy ears or a dog that won’t stop licking excessively or scratching themselves in a harmful way.

So what causes allergies? Is it food your pet is eating or the environment they are exposed to? What are the most common symptoms of allergies? In this article, we will discuss how you can find out what your pet is allergic to and the best treatment options for them.

Signs That Your Pet Has Allergies

If your pet has allergies, symptoms can present themselves in many different ways. Below are some of the common symptoms to watch out for.

Itchy Skin

The most common sign your pet has an allergy is itchy skin. You may find areas of their skin to be red or inflamed, accompanied by intense or excessive scratching or licking as a desperate attempt for your pet to find relief.

Dry, Flaky Skin

Because the skin is reacting to an allergen, whether from food or the environment, it causes abnormalities. A common abnormality is an excessive shedding of skin because of inflammation — basically, pet dandruff.

Loss of Hair

Hair loss is another common symptom of a cat or dog’s allergic reaction. Losing hair can be self-inflicted from the constant scratching or licking. Inflammation of the skin can also cause excessive shedding of skin, resulting in a loss of hair.

Chronic Ear Infections

Many pet owners don’t realize that if their pet has repeat ear infections, it may be a sign of allergies. The ears are mostly skin, and glands throughout the ear canals will secrete fluid when the skin is irritated. This moisture can be trapped in the ear canal, which makes them more susceptible to yeast and bacterial infections.

Finding the Cause of Your Pet’s Allergies

Now that you’re seeing these signs, how do you find out what is causing them? Finding the cause is the first step to helping your furry friend find some relief.

Rule Out an Allergy to Fleas

It’s true! Fleas aren’t just annoying — your pets can actually be allergic to them. The good news is this may be the easiest allergy to treat. All you need to do is get your pet on an effective flea control for management.

Food Trial

If you can determine that your pet’s diet is causing their skin issues, then it is possible to find a food that may help improve their skin condition. A food trial can be performed with a prescription diet that contains a special combination of carbohydrate and protein sources proven to be less reactive than ingredients in traditional kibble. The trial lasts for about eight weeks; and in that time, you should monitor your pet closely for any change in skin issues. If there is an improvement, then food is an issue. If you want to perform a challenge with the original diet to be certain, a skin reaction should show up again within two weeks.

Skin Prick Test

This is the most accurate allergy test to determine if your pet’s allergy is caused by something in their environment. Common environmental allergies are injected under the skin, and the area is monitored for a reaction. The more noticeable the reaction, the more likely the allergy is linked to that specific allergen.

Vet-Supervised Treatment Options for Allergies

Treatment for allergies can vary depending on the cause and the signs your pet is showing. Options for treatment include diet change, desensitization therapy, oral medications, shampoos and injections. We’ll discuss vet-supervised options first.


Steroids, given as an injection or oral medication, are the most common treatment for allergies in pets. While these can be very effective in giving your pet relief, they are not without side effects. This is why steroids should only be given with your veterinarian’s guidance. Don’t be surprised to see a sudden increase in appetite, drinking and bathroom breaks after your pet begins a steroid treatment.

Allergy Desensitization

If you don’t want to be stuck giving pills to your itchy pet long-term, you can attempt to have them desensitized to their allergens. Allergen-specific immunotherapy involves injecting an extract of various things causing allergies in your pet. This is determined by the allergy skin prick test mentioned earlier, and therefore should only be administered under close supervision of your vet. A gradual increase of an allergy-extract injection over an extended period may allow your pet to get used to a specific allergen or allergens. This results in less of a reaction when exposed.

Over-the-Counter Remedies for Allergies

If you are wary of the side-effects that may come along with the treatment options outlined above, over-the-counter and natural options like shampoos specifically formulated to soothe skin, changes in diet and CBD may be a better option for you and your pet.

Allergy Washes

Underneath all of it’s fur, your pet’s skin is made up of several layers which serve to provide a barrier between it and the environment. These layers also provide homeostasis by retaining moisture and other essential nutrients to keep the skin healthy. Skin allergies can disrupt this process, making the skin more susceptible to infection and inflammation. Restoration of the skin barrier can be achieved through shampoos and fatty acid supplements. Shampoos formulated for allergies contain anti-itch, antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-dandruff ingredients that all play a role in this process. Essential fatty acids are designed to be given orally or topically to help with the restoration process as well.


CBD tinctures and chews are also becoming an increasingly popular alternative to the treatments outlined above. Though much research still needs to be done, CBD is largely believed to help reduce inflammation, and a study conducted in 2012 showed promising results in its ability to help reduce itching in dogs suffering from atopic dermatitis. Talk to your vet to see if CBD is a good option for your pet, and set up a subscription with a brand like Heelr, which will deliver your pet’s favorite products to your door once a month.

Final Thoughts

Though allergies can be problematic to you and your pet, they don’t have to suffer. There are many options not only to find out the cause but also to provide relief for your best furry friend.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne is a veterinarian who has over a decade of experience treating cats and dogs. He is also the creator of the Animal Doctor Blog, where he provides general health advice and pet-product reviews.


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