When pets become scratchy and their skin becomes bare, the reason could be a flare to a trigger in one of the three categories of pet allergies—food, flea, and environmental allergies. Read on to learn from the pet allergy experts at Medina Veterinary Clinic about the signs, diagnosis, and treatment of all three. When your pet can’t stop scratching that itch, we can help.

Flea allergies in pets

The common flea is the leading culprit of an itchy pet. Fortunately, highly effective flea preventives can lower the incidence of pet flea allergy dermatitis (FAD).

  • Symptoms — We all know the signs that your pet has fleas—scratching, chewing, licking, and rubbing. The flea’s crawling and biting irritates most pets, but for some pets, a flea bite allergy makes the itching worse. Hair loss, skin redness, secondary bacterial skin infection ensue, often on the pet’s back near the tail.
  • Diagnosis — Sometimes fleas on your pet are not overtly obvious, especially on pets with long hair coats. A fine-toothed flea comb is an invaluable tool to check for fleas, and to monitor the effectiveness of your flea control efforts. Our veterinary team can diagnose your pet’s FAD during a physical exam.
  • Treatment — Many highly effective pet flea treatments and preventives are available as treats or topicals. To control fleas adequately, all household pets must be treated, as well as the indoor and outdoor environments if the flea infestation is severe. If your pet’s scratching has caused skin inflammation and infection, they may need treatment with anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and anti-itch medication in the form of tablets, injections, topicals, or shampoos.

Food allergies in pets

That people have allergies to foods and ingredients such as shellfish or peanuts is well-known, but that pets also can have food allergies is less known.

  • Symptoms — In pets, itchy skin is the most common food allergy sign. Pets can develop a food allergy at any point in their lives. They try to relieve the itch through scratching, licking, and rubbing, which can lead to red, thickened skin and hair loss. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections of the skin, ears, and paws are also common signs of an underlying pet food sensitivity.
  • Diagnosis — Pets usually become allergic to a common food that they have eaten regularly. Over time, they can develop a hypersensitivity to a particular ingredient, which can be the protein or carbohydrate source, or the preservatives or dyes. No laboratory test is available to check for food allergies in pets, and no blood test can pinpoint the problem ingredient. A strict dietary trial is the only method for diagnosing a food allergen.
  • Treatment — The most successful food allergy treatment is to strictly feed your pet a novel ingredient diet, which we can prescribe based on their food trial results. Anti-itch prescriptions can provide some relief in the short-term. Certain supplements, shampoos, and topicals support pet skin health and are recommended on a case-by-case basis. It’s important to remember that the FDA has linked grain-free pet diets to heart disease in dogs, and strict grain-free diets are not recommended for pets at the present time.

Environmental allergies in pets

Does your pet lick their feet when they come inside? Have you noticed that your pet’s itching is seasonal? They may be suffering from environmental allergies. 

  • Symptoms — While seasonal allergies in people often manifest as watery, itchy noses and eyes (i.e., hay fever), environmental allergies in pets usually manifest as skin issues that cause scratching, licking, chewing, and hair loss. Secondary bacterial skin infection (i.e., pyoderma) may result from the skin damage. An allergy is often the underlying cause of recurring bacterial and yeast skin and ear infections in pets.
  • Diagnosis — Some environmental allergies, such as a tree pollen allergy, may be seasonal, but others, such as a dust mite allergy, can cause itching year-round. Intradermal skin testing is the gold standard for environmental allergy testing, with serum testing also available.
  • Treatment — Based on allergy test results, allergen-specific immunotherapy can be customized for your pet. This therapy, which is administered on a decreasing schedule over several months, helps 60% to 80% of dogs. Help eliminate your pet’s suffering from allergies by using home air filters, bathing them regularly, and wiping their paws. Also, anti-itch medications can be prescribed for your pet. Skin support dietary supplements may help, and topical ceramide and fatty acid products can help restore the normal skin barrier.

Medina Veterinary Clinic wants you to remember this: If your pet is scratching, beware—pet allergies can flare! Set up an appointment with our caring team, and we will develop a customized plan to diagnose and treat allergies in your pet.