Dr. Al Townshend
An environmental allergy is an abnormal reaction by the immune system to a substance in the environment. Pets can become exposed to the offending substance (an allergen) by inhaling it, swallowing with food or through exposure to the skin, eyes or nose. Most environmental reactions are to plant, animal and insect proteins, but things like dust, dust mites, plant pollens, molds, chemicals found outdoors, and proteins found in flea saliva are common substances that can also cause allergic reactions in pets.
Certain canine breeds have an increased incidence of developing environmental allergies. The Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Bull Dog, Shar Pie, Dalmatian, West Highland White Terrier, and other terrier breeds, as well as pets that live in southerly, more humid climates may have an increased risk.
When an allergic reaction occurs, it has the potential to cause harm, so understanding what environmental impacts could affect them and what to do if they are affected will go a long way in controlling potential exposure and to help reduce the intensity of a reaction.
What to Look For
Symptoms of an allergic reactions are the body’s response to an environmental allergen that causes inflammation. The response can vary, and often times with repeated exposure the response can intensify, so knowing what triggers your pet is important.
Here are things to know:
- Life Stage: Environmental allergies generally occur early in adult life, between one and three years of age, in dogs and cats.
- Time of year: One of the key signs of an environmental allergy is that many are seasonal and occur only when the allergen is present. Pollens, fungi, and molds are examples.
- Environmental: Environmental impacts like second-hand smoke, intense perfumes, poor air quality and, environmental toxins like cleaners and fertilizers can impact your pet’s health and can be a trigger for allergies.
Signs and Symptoms of an Environmental Allergy
- Itching and scratching, in one specific area or all over the body. It can begin with mild signs but can quickly become intense and cause damage to the skin, ears, and eyes.
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Respiratory congestion
- Itchy flaky skin (pruritus)
- Hair loss
- Ear infections
- Shaking their head and scratching one or both ears
- Smelly and/or “dirty” ears
- Licking of the paws and anus
- Patchy skin or skin irregularities
Cats often express signs of an environmental allergy from poor air quality. Secondary smoke, intense perfumes can set off intense face rubbing, sneezing, and runny eyes.
Environmental allergies often begin quickly and can cause significant Guardian concern. Seeking veterinary care early is essential to reduce the inflammation causing the signs.
Diagnosing an allergy can be a challenge based on your pet’s lifestyle. Interacting with different environments, visiting different households or just being curious pets that get into things they are not supposed to can make it difficult to find the source for a reaction. We always recommend that diagnosis start with your veterinarian.
- Try and list all the potential exposures they may have had both indoors and outdoors.
- Review the tools used in the home that may have impacted them – cleaners, sprays, fertilizers, plants etc. and take this list with you to your vet.
- Once potential exposures have been identified, skin and blood tests may be used to help determine what caused the reaction:
- Skin testing is expensive and uncomfortable for the pet. It should only be considered when the signs are severe and difficult to control, and vaccine therapy is being considered in the pet’s treatment.
- Blood tests for environmental allergies are often used but can be confusing. Results from different laboratories can vary.
How to Support Your Pet
There is generally no cure for an allergy. Once the problem begins, it will be an ongoing issue as long as the pet is exposed to the allergen.
- The best treatment for an allergy is to – where possible – eliminate the offending allergen. This can be challenging, but by limiting your pet’s potential exposure you can help to limit the potential risk of reaction.
- Supplements that can help to support the immune system are essential. A healthy immune system can reduce the intensity of an allergic reaction. Below are some suggested options, but your local Pet Planet can help answer any other questions you may have:
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids found in fish oils, hemp seed oils and phytoplankton supplements can reduce inflammation and are effective in immune support.
- Because 70% of the immune system is in the gut, Probiotics are a critical part of the gut immune system
- Natural antioxidants and herbal supplements can enhance the immune system
- Regular bathing and grooming with hypoallergenic shampoos with oatmeal, aloe, and natural herbs can help soothe the skin and keep the fur and coat clean; while wiping feet and paws after being outside can keep both your pet and your home free of potential allergens found outdoors. Where needed, topical sprays that reduce inflammation in smaller, specific areas can resolve larger, generalized itching and scratching from developing.
- Based on the time of year, cleaning air-conditioning and heating ducts can help maintain a healthy air quality for both you and your pets.
- Where exposure is likely to happen, you will need to support your pet when a reaction occurs. Your veterinarian may suggest prescription or over-the-counter medications to help.
- In severe, complex cases, the veterinarian may consider vaccine therapy. It involves skin testing to determine the specific allergens and developing a vaccine that is slowly given in multiple injections over time and intended to reduce the pet’s response to the allergen.
- Allergies are difficult to prevent. Choosing a breed that is less likely to develop an allergy is helpful; however, allergies can develop in any pet.
- Supporting the immune system throughout a pet’s life can reduce the risk of a reaction.
- Close, regular observation to detect the beginning signs of a reaction can reduce the intensity of a reaction and make it possible to avoid a veterinary visit.
To find the right products for immune support; grooming supplies that can keep the skin and coat healthy and lustrous, and for any other allergy related questions, visit your local Pet Planet.