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Understanding pet allergies

By Silvia Zayadin , Family Flavours - May 09,2021 - Last updated at May 09,2021

Photo courtesy of Family Flavours magazine

By Dr Silvia Zayadin

Allergies in pets are common, accounting for many pet-related problems and visits to the veterinarian. Causes can vary — food or environment triggers or having no known origin. A pet’s allergy tends to worsen with age, affecting its quality of life if not managed correctly or on time. Here is my medical advice on how to help your pet. 


Types and causes

•Certain substances cause seasonal or environmental allergies (pollen, seeds, dust, for example) that the pet inhales or gets into direct (skin) contact with, in the house or outside. Spring and fall are the seasons in which symptoms become more severe. Most dogs start showing signs of allergy between one and three years of age. Symptoms can be controlled, but there is usually no permanent treatment available 

•Flea allergy is one of the most common skin diseases seen in pets, dogs in particular. It is not necessary to see the flea itself on the animal’s coat as the flea’s saliva from the bite is what causes the symptoms. The pet will become itchy and restless. The most affected area is the area around the tail, with more severe itching causing the animal possible self-injury when trying to bite and chew on the affected area 

•Food allergies can affect both dogs and cats; however, it is not as common in cats. These can develop at any point in a pet’s life, regardless of whether it has previously eaten these types of foods or not. The most common food allergy for dogs is from a protein source, such as beef or chicken. Sometimes the allergy is triggered by other ingredients such as grains



The most common symptoms of allergy are skin-related such as: 

•Itchy and red skin 

•Licking or chewing on certain areas of the body

•Hair loss 

•Face rubbing

•Recurrent skin and ear infections

Other symptoms 

•Gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhoea or vomiting

•Runny nose 

•Sneezing or coughing

•Difficulty breathing 

•Red and runny eyes



A thorough examination, along with medical history and symptoms, are recorded when diagnosing allergies in pets. Additional testing (blood tests, diagnostic imaging and sometimes specific blood tests) can determine the allergic triggers. Trial elimination diets can aid in the diagnostic process as well.

Certain breeds are known to be predisposed to allergies, so it is good to consult your veterinarian and schedule regular appointments if you have a pet belonging to one of those breeds. Examples of such breeds are the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Shar-pei and Boxer. 

Treatment and management

Unfortunately, there is no single effective treatment option that will cure the allergy. What we do is a series of steps to help manage the severity of symptoms and allow the animal to have as normal a lifestyle as possible:

•If the exact source of allergy is known, trying to limit the pet’s exposure to it

•Regularly using products to control the external parasites, such as fleas

•If the allergy is food-related, a special diet can protect your pet from the source that causes the allergy 

•Using topical and oral supplements to keep the skin healthy (vitamins and minerals, omega fatty acids, topical antiseptic shampoos)

•In moderate to severe cases, using medications to control the symptoms


Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours magazine

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