Spring has sprung (finally!) and while the warmer weather is always welcome, havoc-wreaking pollen is dreaded and despised. From runny noses and swollen eyes to scratchy throats and itchy skin, allergy symptoms can torment our furry friends just as much as they affect humans, if not worse. While we can use celeb stylist tips to cover up puffy eyes (or give ‘zero f–ks’ like Demi Lovato), our feline and canine companions need more help than that.
Thanks to expert advice from veterinarian and Carrington College’s veterinary technology program director Laura Bellinghausen, Us Weekly has tips for spotting and treating your pet’s allergies ASAP.
The Important Signs to Look For
The tough part about diagnosing allergies is the wide range of symptoms, which aren’t always explicitly clear. If your pet is chronically biting, licking, or scratching at his skin; scooting his rear end; or shaking his head constantly, bring him to the vet for a complete checkup.
“The most common thing we see in both dogs and cats with allergies is that they’re itchy,” Dr. Bellinghausen tells Us. “Typically this comes in the form of hot spots on their paws and between their toes, armpits, rear ends, or their bellies.”
The causes are the same affecting humans — including pollen, temperature shifts, dust mites and different types of mold. It’s important to catch these symptoms early on so that they can be treated as soon as possible.
Cats in particular will excessively groom to soothe their skin, sometimes to the point where they lose fur. This is most common on their bellies, Dr. Bellinghausen explains. Cats with allergies can also experience ulcerations on their lips, or develop legions that run down their hind legs. “It looks like very angry, reddened skin,” she says.
Don’t assume every itch is allergies, though. If your dog only occasionally licks or bites his paw, it could be due to anxiety or boredom. Unless he won’t stop after a correction, or drops a toy to bite his paws, it’s probably not allergies. “If it’s enough for you to take notice and think, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or ‘Why are you doing that?’ that’s a clue to investigate,” Dr. Bellinghausen explains.
What You Can Do
If you suspect your pet is suffering from allergies, you definitely need a visit to the vet. “It’s important to troubleshoot properly and learn exactly what to look for. Your vet can help you do that,” Dr. Bellinghausen tells Us. In some cases, it can take a year or two to find the right combination of home remedies and medicines that works best for your pet.
However, there are some home solutions to try right away. If your cat or dog is scratching after spending time outside, start by wiping him down with a cool cloth. “Physically removing those allergens from your pet — between his toes, behind his ears, near the base of his tail — will really help tone down those itchy allergy symptoms,” Dr. Bellinghausen tells Us.
Another topical trick? Applying essential oils and fatty acids that contain both omega-3 and omega-6, such as DermoScent. Dr. Bellinghausen also suggests using Cera-Ve moisturizing lotion, which contains ceramides that protect and maintain your pet’s skin barrier and keep allergens from irritating it. Be sure to dilute it with water to make a milky mixture, then apply it to those itchy areas: feet, rear end, belly and ears.
What’s more, simply vacuuming often can help prevent upholstered items from trapping allergens such as dust mites. “Think of it as having an asthmatic child at home,” Dr. Bellinghausen says. “Vacuum religiously, and start using an air purifier or allergy filters in your heating and cooling systems.”
If you’re thinking about popping into the pharmacy for an instant fix, think again. Over the counter antihistamines (such as Benadryl and Claritin) often work, but it’s essential that you talk to your vet about which brand and dosages she thinks is best — and safest — for your pet, Dr. Bellinghusen stresses.
How to Figure Out the Cause
When you visit your vet, there are numerous tactics to diagnosing your pet’s allergies. To rule out food, she may put your pet on a prescription diet to see if the itching goes away. After that, she may conduct a blood test to detect which type of antibodies your dog or cat has built up to battle a particular allergen, such as pollen or dust mites.
“It takes a lot of trial and error,” Dr. Bellinghausen says. “And it can take a lot of time and money.”
If your pet’s allergy is chronic, severe and confirmed, your veterinarian might suggest he receive allergy shots. But this is not suggested until all other options have been exhausted. “If your pet’s symptoms are so bad that he is self-mutilating — scratching so hard he begins to bleed or rip his nails — then allergy shots may be required,” Dr. Bellinghausen explains. “But that is only for those rare, really bad cases.”