Allergic reactions occur frequently in pets, developing acutely or turning into a chronic disease. By learning how to identify, manage, and prevent allergic reactions in your furry pal, you can avoid more serious health problems and keep your pet comfortable.

Identifying an allergic reaction in your pet

Subtle, chronic signs can make spotting an allergic reaction in your pet more challenging, especially since allergies in cats and dogs more likely affect their skin than their eyes and nose. While you probably sneeze and rub at your itchy, watery eyes, your pet is more apt to scratch, lick, and chew their irritated skin.

Acute allergic reactions are more obvious, particularly if the pet has excessive inflammation, swelling, and hives, or a significant localized reaction.

In either case, an allergic reaction in your pet may cause:

  • Irritated, inflamed skin
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Excessive scratching, licking, and chewing
  • Head shaking
  • Ear and skin infections

Food allergies and acute reactions can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy, whereas acute allergic reactions may result in breathing difficulties.

Pinpointing the cause of your pet’s allergic reaction

Determining your pet’s allergic reaction trigger is much more challenging with chronic allergies than an acute reaction. However, understanding why your pet developed an allergic reaction is key to successful treatment and prevention.

Allergic reactions are generally caused by proteins from plants, insects, animals, or food, and your pet can be allergic to many things in their environment. Some common allergy causes in pets include:

  • Fleas
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Dust mites
  • Grooming products
  • Cleaning products
  • Materials (e.g., plastic, nylon, wool, etc.)
  • Foods (e.g., chicken, lamb, beef, eggs, dairy, soy)

Your pet’s reaction can help you determine the inciting allergen. For example, if your furry pal breaks out in a full-body itchy rash after you bathed them with a new shampoo, you know a shampoo ingredient is likely to blame. Or, if your dog develops a reddened lump on their muzzle that escalates to a swollen face after being outdoors, they likely were stung by a bee.

Paying close attention to the circumstances surrounding your pet’s allergic reaction is key to identifying the cause, and for administering appropriate treatment.

Managing your pet’s allergic reaction at home

When your pet first reacts, try to identify and remove the allergen. You may be able to scrape out a bee stinger with a credit card, wash your pet with Dawn dish soap to strip pollens and chemicals, or remove a nylon collar.

Next, administer any allergy medications your pet has been prescribed, or contact our Palm Valley Veterinary Center veterinarian if you have no prescription medication at home, and ask about administering an antihistamine or recommending another product. Never administer medication to your pet without consulting a veterinarian since many human medications are toxic to pets.

Lastly, monitor your pet. If their reaction is severe or does not improve at home, they need veterinary treatment.

Recognizing when to seek emergency care for your pet’s allergic reaction

Acute allergic reactions can quickly turn serious and potentially life-threatening, so closely monitor your pet, and head to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital if you see these signs:

  • Facial swelling
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue or purple gums and tongue
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Convulsions

Preventing allergic reactions in your pet

While you can’t put your pet in a protective bubble, you can greatly reduce their allergen reaction risk by identifying their triggers.

You can reduce or eliminate your pet’s allergen exposure by:

  • Bathing or wiping off your pet
  • Minimizing your pet’s outdoor time during high pollen counts
  • Keeping your pet away from hives, webs, and nests
  • Running an air purifier
  • Vacuuming frequently
  • Removing carpeting
  • Washing bedding and blankets frequently 
  • Freezing your pet’s dry food
  • Using pet-friendly cleaning products

Various therapies can also help manage your pet’s allergies, either preventing them completely or reducing reaction severity. Depending on the allergen, your pet may benefit from:

  • Flea prevention
  • Antihistamines
  • Anti-itch medications (e.g., Apoquel, Cytopoint)
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Immunotherapy
  • Medicated shampoos and wipes
  • Ear cleaners and ointments
  • Skin health supplements
  • A change in dietary protein source
  • Prescription hydrolyzed diet

Allergic reactions can make pets miserable, and identifying the culprit is key to keeping them comfortable. If your furry pal is miserable because of allergies, schedule an appointment with our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team.