By Natalie Perkins
When I was younger, like just about every other kid, I begged and pleaded with my parents to get us a dog. The non-stop whining, begging, and bargaining continued until one day, when I was ten years old, my mom brought home our dog Lily from the pound.
She was white, brown, and black, adorable, and incessantly itching. Turns out, she had an allergy. I had never thought about animals having allergies, but it is actually something that is very common.
Dr. Alison Flynn-Lurie, a veterinary dermatologist at Miami Veterinary Specialists, says pets --both dogs and cats-- get many of the same types of allergies we get… and pet owners need to be on the lookout for the sniffly, scratchy signs!
Pollen/Mold: Just like you and I can get the sniffles in the spring and fall when there’s lots of pollen in the air, our furry friends can experience skin irritation from things like pollen and mold. Dr Flynn-Lurie says that this allergy is called atopy and “is characterized by face-rubbing and paw-licking.”
Food: Pets can have an allergy to different kinds of protein products in their pet food, including chicken, soy, wheat, beef, and fish. You might think that an allergy to food would cause intestinal problems, like it can with us. Nope, actually “this kind of allergy shows up in the form of ear infections and generalized itch,” according to Dr Flynn-Lurie. If you’ve been changing your pet’s food around and noticing some extra licking and biting, don’t jump to conclusions.
Dr. Flynn-Lurie says that pets don’t usually show signs of food allergies until they’ve been exposed to the protein for about two months, so the newest brand of pet food might not be the culprit!
Contact: It's true- pets can also get a rash, typically on their belly, after accidentally brushing up against something like poison oak or other outdoor plants. It’s a contact allergy.
Fleas: If you see Spot or Fluffy scratching, licking or biting on or around its tail, beware. It’s a key sign that your pet has been bitten by nasty little fleas. A reaction to flea bites is actually the most common allergy for our four-legged friends. That’s what happened to my poor Lily.
Most pet allergies are going to show up in the form of a rash, and maybe even an ear infection. Because these allergies all have similar symptoms, Dr. Flynn-Lurie urges all pet owners to consult a veterinary dermatologist if they think their pet might be having a reaction. Treatments may include flea treatments, if the nasty little bugs are the culprit. If the treatments don't work, the doctor may give you a medicated soap to stop the irritation. That's what we had to do for poor Lily. If an infection or ear infection is really bad, your vet might even give you some antibiotics to speed the healing process and help ease the pain for your pet.
A lot of times, your pet’s allergies are hard to control. There are obvious things you can do for food allergies, such as changing your pet’s diet, but other changes might not be so simple. Lily would get some kind of skin irritation at least once a year, and our vet finally helped us realize that it was probably because of all the rummaging around the backyard that she would do when we were gone.
Aside from flea bites, she most likely had some form of atopy that showed up when she decided to dig a hole under one of my mom’s plants, or roll around in the dirt. You might not be able to control what your pet does when you’re not around, but perform whatever preventative measures you can and seek professional advice when necessary to keep that tail wagging all year round.