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Identifying and Solving Pet Allergies

Posted by Michelle, founder of Paws pet boutique in Annapolis, MD and on

Seeing things growing and turning green is always refreshing until you realize it's also spring allergy season for many. We touched base with Dr. Marianne (Bailey) Holbein, the owner and veterinarian at Queenstown Veterinary Hospital in Queenstown Maryland, to learn more about pet allergies. If you are wondering "Why is my dog licking their paws or my cat licking their belly?", read on! Below you'll learn how to identify allergy symptoms in pets and how to make them more comfortable.

Q. Allergies seem to flare up for people in the spring. Is this a season pets also experience allergy issues?

Yes! Pets can suffer from seasonal allergies like we do. Dogs, cats and even horses with allergies to grasses and pollens may be especially uncomfortable this time of the year. Usually early spring is when the allergy season is the worst and it may continue until early to mid summer. Another term that veterinarians use for seasonal allergies in pets is atopy.

Q. What are some of the symptoms to watch for that would indicate my pet has allergies?

Unlike us, pets normally do not suffer with red, itchy eyes and sneezing but may show more signs of skin problems or digestive issues. Dogs will typically lick their paws excessively, scratch their sides or develop ear infections. Cats may rub their face or pull hair off of their belly. The inflammation of the skin can lead to excessive licking or chewing and a secondary skin infection. Some cats and dogs may also develop diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss as a result of the allergy. If you are noticing any of these changes, it is important to call your veterinarian immediately.

Q. What is the difference between seasonal and food allergies? Are the symptoms different?

The differences are the type of allergic response in the pet and the frequency that they affect the pet. With seasonal allergies, pets have a reaction to a pollen or other allergen that stimulates a histamine reaction. Histamine causes the skin to become inflamed and itchy. Food allergies are caused when the body reacts to a protein or other molecule in the food as it is digested. It can cause the same inflammatory reaction in the skin but can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and blood protein and electrolyte abnormalities.

Seasonal allergies may come and go throughout the year or have a cyclic pattern but food allergies are year round. Pets may develop either type of allergy at any age but most are over 1 year. Some pets may have seasonal allergies in the spring to grasses and pollens and then in the winter to molds which can be confusing because it seems like a year round infection. They are even finding that cats and dogs can be allergic to each other!

Some cats and dogs can have a terrible flea allergy. When they are bitten by a flea, the skin may experience an intense inflammatory reaction causing them to become very itchy and uncomfortable. Most cats and dogs will start biting and pulling the hair off the back legs and rear end. Secondary skin infections are very common with flea allergy dermatitis as well. Because of how similar these allergies may seem, a detailed history will be very important for your veterinarian to make the correct diagnosis.

Q. What are some things I can do to address my dog’s allergy issues?

The most important thing is to work with your veterinarian to determine if your pet has a food allergy, seasonal allergy or flea allergy. Once this is determined you can discuss treatment options. It is important that every cat and dog should be on monthly flea prevention.

Antihistamines can be given for seasonal allergies to decrease inflammation in the skin, resulting in less itching, scratching and licking. For pets with food allergies, your veterinarian can help recommend a diet that will eliminate possible allergens. Chicken and beef are the most common causes of food allergies but we are seeing cases where grains and corn cause a pet's skin to become inflamed. Your pet's treats should also be compliant with the diet. Sweet potato treats and peanut butter treats are normally good options for dogs.

Q. At what point do you advise seeking veterinarian assistance to address a pet’s allergy symptoms?

I usually ask you to rank your pet's skin problem on a scale of 1-10 in terms of "itchiness". Anytime you are getting close to or over a 5 it is time to discuss this with your veterinarian. You want to help your pet be as comfortable as possible and catch the problem before skin infections occur. Since some food allergies can also result in diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and blood protein and electrolyte abnormalities, it is important that we don't wait too long. During the annual vaccine appointment is a great time to discuss this with your veterinarian! 

Thanks to Dr. Holbein for this important information on cat and dog allergies! For more information, or to contact her, visit or call 410-827-6776. Watch our Paws Blog for more helpful pet tips coming soon!