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By Dr. Méline Joaris
Dogs and cats can be allergic to dust, plants, pollens, and molds – just like humans! Allergies in dogs most often manifest as itchy eyes, chewing or licking of the feet, rashes, full-body itchiness, head shaking, ear scratching, hot spots, and sneezing. Purebred dogs, young animals, and animals moving to a new part of the country are all at higher risk, but allergies can essentially happen to any dog, at any time of their life. There is no definitive cure for allergies in dogs or cats, but there’s a lot you can do to mitigate symptoms and keep your pup comfortable through allergy season.
First thing you want to do is to talk to your vet to confirm that your pet has allergies, and not something else. The symptoms are broad and can look like other diseases. Allergies can also be made worse by a number of underlying conditions, so let’s just cross everything else off. We also want to be sure that your pet hasn’t developed infections from all the itching and licking, or developed other allergy-related health conditions. Depending on the severity of allergies, your vet may recommend a visit to a veterinary dermatologist.
A good monthly parasite prevention is critical for managing allergies in dogs and cats. Bites from fleas, mites, and ticks can make allergic skin disease worse. You also want to be sure your pet is eating high-quality foods, and that a food allergy isn’t contributing to their symptoms. Daily use of probiotics can also help mitigate allergic conditions. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory effects and are a great addition to improve skin and coat health. These work especially well in combination with antihistamines (more on those below). Fish oil is an excellent source of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. For dogs, the daily addition of a small amount (less than ½ teaspoon) of local honey (make sure it’s local!) exposes your pet to a very small amount of local pollens. The goal is to desensitize the immune system. Keep in mind this is a long-term treatment (3-6 months) and won’t work for every pet. Don’t do this if your pet is diabetic or has other metabolic diseases!
Bathing your dog 2-3 times weekly can help wash away pollens and soothe irritated skin. Colloidal oatmeal is great for calming some dogs’ itchy skin. If your pet’s skin is very irritated (or at risk of skin infection with open sores), there are medicated shampoos with antibiotic and anti-fungal properties that you can get through your vet. Always remember to wipe your pet down after a trip outdoors using grooming wipes or a damp washcloth to remove pollens on the skin. Focus on the areas your pet itches the most. Usually this means the paws (between toes!), belly, groin, armpits, under the tail, and the muzzle. Keep those ears squeaky clean! Bacteria and yeast naturally live in your pets ears; when allergies flare, inflammation increases risk of infection.
The most common over-the-counter medications for allergies in dogs are antihistamines. They can provide great relief for some, but not all will pups benefit. Check with the Fuzzy Veterinary team first to be sure it won’t interfere with other medical conditions or medications. You can give your dog Benadryl (diphenhydramine) 2-3 times daily at 1mg per pound of body weight. For instance, a 12-pound dog can receive 12mg, which is equal to one children’s Benadryl or ½ an adult dose. A 50-pound dog would need 50mg, or two adult Benadryl. Benadryl may cause drowsiness. Zyrtec (cetirizine) or Claritin (loratadine) can be given once to twice daily. The adult tablets are both 10mg. Dogs under 10 pounds should get no more than 5mg, or ½ of a tablet. Those weighing 10-50 pounds should get 10mg, and heavy dogs (over 50 pounds) can take up to 20mg. There are newer medications to treat pet itchiness that are available through your veterinarian.
The most common medications for allergies in cats are antihistamines. They can provide great relief for some, but not all will benefit. Check with the Fuzzy Veterinary team first to be sure it won’t interfere with other medical conditions or medications. You can give your cat Zyrtec (cetirizine) - 5mg (1/2 tablet) once daily (one full tablet of adult Zyrtec is 10mg).