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Allergy awareness in dogs and cats

Allergy awareness in dogs and cats

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It’s allergy awareness week and to highlight this, we are discussing the different types of allergies that dogs and cats can suffer from, how to manage or treat those allergies and what happens when it isn’t an allergy at all?


Common allergies in dogs and cats

We often assume that food is to blame when a dog or cat starts itching, especially if it coincides with a change in diet or the introduction of a new treat. However, food allergies only account for 5-15% of skin conditions in dogs, and up to 10% in cats (TVP, 2011). More commonly dogs and cats will actually be allergic to something in the environment or suffer from a reaction to flea saliva, a condition known as flea allergic dermatitis (FAD). Unfortunately, 20-30% of dogs with food allergies are also allergic to fleas or environmental factors (Roudebush, 2013), cats that suffer from atopic dermatitis often also suffer from food allergies too.

Environmental allergies

Dogs and cats can be allergic to allergens such as pollen, moulds, dust mites or storage mites (causing atopic dermatitis) or items including plants and cleaning products (contact allergies). Animals can also inhale things that cause allergies including perfumes or smoke. In cats, asthma can be caused by inhalant allergens. 

Treatment for these types of allergies includes immunotherapy (desensitising the animal to the allergen), medications to stop the itching and keep any secondary infections controlled, keeping the skin clean and dry, including wiping down the fur and feet after a walk to remove contact allergens. Avoiding the allergens such as not spraying perfume, avoiding air fresheners in the home or removing certain plants is also important.

Flea allergy - But my pet doesn’t have fleas?

If an animal is suffering from FAD, then it only takes one flea bite to cause considerable irritation. Scratching the area can lead to hair loss, redness and secondary bacterial infections. Therefore, keeping up to date with regular flea prevention treatments and treating the home when necessary is important.

Food allergy or Intolerance – what’s the difference and why does it matter?

When it comes to food allergies, firstly, let’s think about human health. We’ve all heard the term lactose intolerant for people that cannot tolerate lactose (the sugar) in milk and other dairy products. It is called an intolerance rather than an allergy for a reason. When an allergy occurs, it is because your immune system reacts to a certain food as if it is a dangerous invader, like a bacteria or virus. An intolerance is different because it does not involve the immune system. Instead, it's when your body has trouble digesting a certain food.

Therefore, when it comes to discussing reactions to food, it is preferable to use the term adverse food reaction (AFR) as this covers allergies, intolerances and sensitivities (such as those to high fat or fibre diets).

Only food allergies will show up on blood tests, intolerances don’t involve the immune system and therefore cannot be determined this way. This is why the best way to verify an AFR (allergy or intolerance) is by following an elimination (also known as exclusion) diet.

Signs of a food intolerance usually involve the digestive system and include flatulence, diarrhoea, vomiting, bloating, abdominal pain, weight loss or a gurgling stomach, however the skin may be affected in the form of a rash or yeast overgrowth.

Signs of a food allergy often affect the skin and include red, itchy irritated skin or ears, but sometimes vomiting and/or diarrhoea will also be seen.

Many dogs and cats can be intolerant to foods instead of being allergic.


What do I do if my dog or cat is showing signs of an allergy?

As we discussed, there are several types of allergies. Finding the cause of your pet’s allergic reaction can be tricky as often it involves a process of elimination to find a diagnosis. If your vet suspects an AFR then the best course of action is to feed an exclusion diet using a hypoallergenic diet with novel ingredients. For more information see our blog here.





Roudebush, P. Ingredients and foods associated with adverse reactions in dogs and cats. Vet. Dermatol. 2013, 24, 293–294.

Today’s Veterinary Practice: Issue: November/December 2011 ‘Food Allergy: Diagnostics & Therapeutic Food Options’.


 Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

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