Health & Wellness Articles

Dealing with Pet Allergies

Managing Environmental Allergies in Dogs and Cats

Environmental allergies are one of the most common and frustrating issues I see pet owners dealing with today. Recent studies estimate that skin- or allergy-related issues account for up to 40 percent of all veterinary visits. Not only are allergies miserable for pets and owners, they can also be expensive. As a pet owner, it's important to recognize the most common signs of environmental allergies and how to keep your pet free and clear of problems.
What Types of Things are Pets Allergic to?
Despite all the hypoallergenic foods on the market, just 10-20 percent of allergies in dogs and cats are food-related. The overwhelming majority of pet allergies can be traced to environmental triggers. Our pets can be allergic to many of the same types of things we are: dust, mold, grass, pollen, cigarette smoke and more. Pets generally develop a response to an allergen (the inciting cause of an allergic reaction) after it is either inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Atopy is the term used to describe a specific allergic condition in which pets have a genetically programmed hypersensitivity to one or more environmental allergens. Beagles, Boston terriers, West Highland white terriers, golden retrievers and English bulldogs are among the breeds that might be predisposed to the development of canine atopy. There does not appear to be a specific breed predilection in cats.
How Can I Tell if My Pet has Allergies?
The most common sign of canine and feline environmental allergies is itching that tends to coincide with the change in seasons. Symptoms can vary depending on geographic region but are generally at their worst in the spring and fall. In some cases, they can persist year-round. Itching and hair loss typically occur around the face, ears, under-arms, belly and thighs. A frequent complaint from many owners of pets with allergies is that their pet is constantly shaking their head, and/or licking and biting at his or her paws.
Pets with allergies can be prone to a multitude of secondary problems such as yeast and bacterial infections, which can lead to a generalized odor of the skin, ears and/or feet. In many cases, pets may "scoot" on their rear ends, because they are itchy in the area of their anal glands (specialized scent glands located inside the rectum). Some dog and cats may develop isolated areas of hair loss or red, inflamed skin often referred to as "hot spots."
While skin issues are most common in pet allergies, some dogs and cats can develop respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and red or watery eyes. Some pets become so miserable from itching or secondary infections that they may become lethargic or lose interest in their food.
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About The Author

Kristi Snyder, DVM Kristi Snyder, DVM
Kristi is a veterinarian and author of, a healthy living blog where she shares her passion for wellness and inspires others to live healthy, balanced lives. She lives in Phoenix with her three dogs (Eddy, Alan and Jelly Bean) and her cat Smush. She loves animals, cooking, running--and all things chocolate.

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