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Is Your Pet Dying To Scratch That Itch?

Pet allergies at this time of year are extremely common and can take time to find the cause to get them under control, which can be frustrating both for the owner and their pet.

Find out more about allergies on our blog.


Pet allergies are becoming increasingly more common and tend to go untreated causing the pet unnecessary suffering and distress.

Allergies in pets can sometimes cause stomach upsets, greasy skin, red paws, red bellies, red spots or raised spots (hives), lesions, sneezing, sore ears, chronic ear infections, runny nose, swollen or runny eyes, swollen lips and constant licking. 20% of pets with any type of allergy have gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting or diarrhoea and not all pets with allergies have the same symptoms of which they may have one or more, making allergies difficult to diagnose, especially the cause. (Some of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions so always seek veterinary advice).

Allergies may range from a bit of redness on the feet and licking to more severe symptoms such as large lesions and open sores. Whilst the presentation of the allergy may look mild, it causes discomfort to your pet which results in restlessness, excessive scratching, behavioural issues and loss of sleep so we would always advise seeking help.

Allergies can sometimes be hereditary and more common in certain breeds such as bull breeds, westies, poodle cross breeds and spaniels.

Often trying to get to the cause of the allergy is a very long process and can be expensive, but there are lots of medications and diets that can help make your pet feel much better and comfortable even whilst we try to diagnose the actual cause.

There Are 3 Types Of Allergies That Pets Suffer From -

  • Food

  • Flea

  • Environmental

Whilst you would think that food allergies and sensitivities would cause stomach upsets they can cause itchy skin and skin lesions as well. The most common places pets with food allergies itch are their ears and their paws, and this may be accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea.

Flea allergy dermatitis is an allergic reaction to flea bites, more specifically the flea saliva. This makes affected pets extremely itchy, especially at the base of the tail and across their back. Their skin may become red, inflamed and scabbed, causing their coat to thin. You may also notice signs of fleas, such as flea dirt, or even see the fleas themselves.

Environmental allergens, such as grasses, trees, dust mites, dust, pollen, mould, plant and animal fibres, can cause atopic allergic reactions (hypersensitivity such as itchy or red skin, runny eyes or nose or swelling to the face and sneezing) or atopic dermatitis (red, swollen, sore skin).

This is caused by the pet coming into contact with the allergen or simply inhaling the particles (just like us with hayfever). In most cases, these allergies are seasonal, so you may only notice your pet itching or reacting during certain times of the year. As with food allergies, the most commonly affected areas are the paws and ears (but also include the legs, face, groin, belly and chest, and in between the toes).

Diagnosing Allergies -

Anyone who has had allergy testing will know it is a long process as we have to eliminate different causes. This could involve doing a food trial to eliminate different proteins or specialist tests such as blood tests, biopsies, skin and hair samples. This can take months as each possible allergen is ruled out.

For food trials you would need to trial the food for 4-6 weeks before moving on to a different specialist diet, during the trial it is important that the pet only eats the specialist diet so all additional treats should be limited, but don’t let that put you off trying, the vet or nurse would go through all the dos and don’ts at the start of the food trial. 20- 30% of pets with food allergies also have allergies to other things such as environmental or flea.

Whilst we would like to stress that the journey for allergy treatments may be long and frustrating, taking the time to find a treatment that works best for your pet will be worth it. Even if we don’t always find the cause, we can make your pet much more comfortable, happy and healthier with the treatments now available.

Treatments -

Allergies often have what we call a multimodal approach to get them under control and give the pet the relief they crave.

Previously, it was common to use steroids to treat allergies, but due to the side effects and advancement in veterinary medicine, there are now better medications available for treating allergies- though they can be expensive.

Antihistamines are sometimes used but aren't always effective in controlling flare-ups. they may additionally cause side effects such as drowsiness.

Daily medication such as Apoquel is one treatment commonly used. This tends to start at a higher dose twice a day which is reduced as the allergy comes under control. If you struggle to medicate your pet, tablets may not be the best option for them.

Monthly injections such as Cytopoint are an effective treatment, although expensive (costing approx £2- £5 per day when broken down) it has the least side effects and you can forget about having to struggle to medicate your pet daily.

99.6% of pets with atopy symptoms will improve with specialist diets when used with veterinary medication, with most showing an improvement from day 21, some pets' allergies can be controlled by diet alone. Whilst there are lots of hypoallergenic diets on the market, prescription diets would ideally be your first choice, such as Hills Derm Complete which helps the damaged skin to heal, Z/D, D/D and Royal Canin Veterinary Hypoallergenic. Diets need to be fed for a minimum of 4-6 weeks before assessing the response or changing.

Supplements such as fish oils and coconut oil can also be used to help pets that have allergies. Whilst they may not be as effective as prescription diets, they can help reduce inflammation and dryness. We would not recommend using any supplements until your pet has been assessed by a vet first.

Any pet that has allergies must have good preventative parasite care given religiously and routinely to prevent a flare-up. Shop bought flea treatments are often ineffective and not cost-effective when used for pets with allergies, due to the products slower kill time for fleas (as they are unlikely to prevent flare-ups or eliminate an infestation). We would always recommend routinely using a veterinary product sold by your vet as these act much quicker.

Allergies that present on the skin pose the risk of secondary infection. As your pet scratches, bites, and licks their skin, they risk yeast and bacterial infections that may require treatment such as medicated shampoos, creams or antibiotics as well as treatment for the allergy itself to get the itching under control.

What Can I Do If I Suspect My Pet Has Allergy -

Book an appointment with your vet for an examination, whilst diagnosis is often long and the cause can't always found, there are lots that your vet can do to help treat your pet and make them feel happier and comfortable.

Don’t start supplements or parasite treatment without a veterinary assessment first, as sometimes these treatments can make the condition worse and prevent us from treating your pet straight away, causing unnecessary delay.

Some clients may worry that tests and treatments may be out of their budget, it is always worth discussing these concerns with your vet who can advise you on your pet's options and cost-effective treatment plans.


Order Dr Hannah Parkin's Amazing Guide To Caring For Your New Puppy.
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