Relieving Pet Allergies Naturally
By Shelley Brown, DVM
It’s that time of year again: The sun is shining, the breeze is warmer, flowers are blooming, and the pollen is flying. Yes, it’s allergy season. For some of us, it’s obvious in the form of runny eyes and sniffling noses. However, you may not know that pets can suffer allergies too.
Instead of the typical human symptoms, our pets show allergies mainly through their skin in the form of itching, scratching, chewing, licking, rubbing on things, or shaking their heads. In the worst cases, this is constant, keeping their owners up at night and resulting in secondary skin sores and infections.
Other symptoms of allergies can include discharge from the skin, rashes, flaking, an oily feel or a yeasty or sour smell. Make no mistake, it is a miserable experience for these pets. Unfortunately, because histamine is only involved in about 10% of allergic reactions, simple antihistamines by themselves won’t help. These cases need medical intervention. Thankfully there are many options available.
- Oral medications: Taken via the mouth, steroids, Atopica, and Apoquel help to calm the immune response to allergens.
- Injectable medications: Cytopoint is an injection that works against a specific receptor in dogs. It has minimal side effects and can help calm symptoms for up to a month, so it’s a great option for those really chronic or severe cases.
- Medicated shampoos: These are like putting water on the fire. They can help decrease itch and also manage the skin bacteria and yeast, which can get out of control while the immune system is busy dealing with the allergy.
- Sprays and wipes: Used topically in areas of focal infection or itching, these are great if the issue is in one spot like a foot.
- Diet changes: Some allergies are worsened by certain things in the diet, so there are many things out there that can calm the immune system and help heal the skin.
- Supplements: Fish oil is a great supplement to decrease itching and inflammation and improve skin integrity.
- Herbs: Herbs like Burdock, Rehmannia, Astragalus, and Hardy Kiwi can be helpful in some patients.
- Allergy testing and allergy shots: Just like in people, we can test for what animals are allergic to and then give them shots to desensitize them to those things.
- Alternative therapies. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have a long history of success in treating pet allergies.
If your pet has symptoms of itching or skin issues, DO:
- Make an appointment with us for an exam. This is because not all itching is due to allergies. Pets can have skin parasites, thyroid issues, or other serious medical conditions that can mimic the symptoms of allergies.
- Document your pets symptoms. This includes when they started and if they are progressing or resolving.
- Bring information to your appointment. This includes a list of any medications and what your pet is currently eating, including treats.
- Give your pet over-the-counter allergy medication unless you’ve been told to by a veterinary professional. Some over-the-counter medications can be toxic to pets (especially cats) and many don’t work in animals.
- Try multiple things all at once, like adding in 5 supplements and a diet change. If things get worse you won’t know the culprit and there are many interactions.
- Research the internet. There are thousands of purported “cures” for allergies out there, and many of them don’t work, or only work in mild cases. It can be hard to sort out the good things from the snake oil. If you find something you would like to try, contact us. We are happy to evaluate new options and weigh in on their efficacy and safety.
- Give up if one treatment doesn’t work. All pets are individuals and that is even more true when it comes to allergies. If something doesn’t work, we can try other treatments. It can take some time, but with a little persistence, we can get most allergy-prone pets feeling much better.