Allergies in Dogs & Cats: Triggers, Prevention, & Treatment

A dog scratching, representing a symptom common to allergies in dogs and allergies in cats

Have you ever observed itchiness, sneezing, or frequent ear infections in your dog or cat? These are signs linked to allergies in dogs and cats. Just like people, dogs and cats can have allergies too; common allergy triggers for dogs and cats include food (e.g. certain types of protein) or environmental allergens (e.g. mold, pollen, etc). 

Though there is no known cure for allergies in cats and dogs, pet parents can have their fur babies tested for allergies and avoid their pet’s allergic triggers. Certain medications and care practices will also help manage allergic episodes. 

If you’re looking to learn more about allergies in cats and dogs, this complete guide covers everything: the symptoms, common triggers, and treatment options.

What’s in This Guide?

A cat with itchy skin, a symptom of allergies in cats

What are Allergies in Dogs & Cats?

Allergies in dogs and cats are immune system responses to substances that are typically harmless but trigger abnormal reactions in sensitive pets. These allergens can vary widely and may include certain proteins like those found in specific foods, environmental factors such as pollen or dust mites, and even flea saliva.

What Triggers Allergies in Dogs & Cats

Though it may seem that all dogs and cats can eat various types of meat, some pets may be allergic to certain proteins. Protein allergies are the most common food allergies in dogs and cats. The following proteins are common causes of food allergies in both dogs and cats: 

  • Beef
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Fish and other seafood
  • Milk and dairy products

Note: Some dogs and cats may also have allergies or food sensitivities towards grains — however, this is far less common than protein allergies.

Dogs and cats can also have environmental allergic triggers. These are often the cause of seasonal allergies in pets (e.g. pet spring allergies, pet fall allergies). Common environmental allergens for pets include the following: 

  • Pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Dust Mites

Lastly, dogs and cats can also have allergic reactions to the following: 

Symptoms of Allergies in Cats & Dogs

The most common signs of allergies in pets involve the skin, gut, and/or respiratory system. Here is an extensive list containing the symptoms of allergies in dogs and cats:

Skin-related Allergy Symptoms in Dogs & Cats

  • Heightened shedding, itching, and dandruff
  • Excessive biting of their coat or skin
  • Compulsive paw licking (commonly seen in dogs)
  • Engaging in boot scooting or excessive anal gland licking
  • Any sign of redness, inflammation, or skin infections
  • Suffering from recurring ear infections
  • Displaying red and waxy ears (commonly seen in dogs)
  • Swollen face and paws

Respiratory-related Allergy Symptoms in Dogs & Cats

  • Observing nasal and/or eye discharge (typically clear in allergy-related cases; colored discharge may indicate an infection)
  • Symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, or breathing difficulties (common in cats)

Gut-related Allergy Symptoms in Dogs & Cats

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
Note: Allergic triggers may, at times, produce a more severe, potentially life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is an emergency or urgent pet care case, requiring immediate veterinary attention. Signs of anaphylaxis include vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, and seizures. Left untreated, anaphylaxis can result in fatality. 
A dog with low energy due to uncomfortable symptoms from allergies in dogs

Diagnosing Allergies in Dogs & Cats 

Diagnosing allergies in dogs and cats is the first step to alleviating itchiness, swelling, and other uncomfortable symptoms. And because anaphylactic shock is possible in dogs and cats that have allergies, bringing the matter to a veterinarian helps prepare the pet parent if an incident of anaphylaxis develops.

To diagnose allergies, veterinarians will first observe the clinical symptoms in the allergic dog or cat. The pet parent may be interviewed to determine the food items, environmental substances, insects, or medication the dog or cat has recently been exposed to.

Veterinarians may also recommend doing a RAST test (radioallergosorbent test) to help zero in on the dog’s or cat’s allergic triggers.

Note: If the patient is brought in while suffering from anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock, the priority will be to stabilize the dog’s or cat’s condition.
A veterinarian diagnosing a dog for allergies in Sploot Veterinary Care, a clinic with locations in Denver and Chicago

How to Treat (& Manage) Allergies in Cats & Dogs

Currently, there is no cure for allergies in dogs and cats. Instead, treatment is targeted towards stabilizing the patient (if needed), preventing future allergic reactions, and empowering the pet parent to respond in the best way in case future allergic episodes develop. 

1. Stabilizing the Patient’s Condition

When it comes to allergies in dogs and cats, stabilizing the pet’s condition is commonly necessary if the symptoms have not abated or if the patient is suffering from a serious allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. 

If a pet is vomiting (along with any of the other allergic symptoms) when brought into the clinic, veterinarians may administer the anti-allergy medication via injection since the oral route will no longer be effective. In some cases, allergies in dogs and cats can also cause pain and this will necessitate the use of pain medication so that the patient can be more comfortable.

As for anaphylaxis, treatment may include anti-allergy medication, pain medication, intravenous fluids, administering oxygen, and close monitoring of the pet’s condition. Serious allergic reactions and anaphylaxis can be stabilized in an urgent pet care clinic like Sploot — and if overnight hospitalization is necessary, the patient can be referred to an animal hospital. 

2. Identifying the Allergic Trigger

Alongside clinical observations, veterinarians can use tests to help get a better idea of what the dog’s or cat’s allergen is. Identifying allergic triggers helps determine the best dietary or lifestyle recommendations for a dog or cat with allergies. 

The commonly used tests for allergies in dogs and cats include the following:

a. The RAST Test 

The RAST test for dogs and cats is a blood test that will help in getting an idea of environmental allergies or seasonal allergies; may or may not be used as a screening test.

b. Food Trials 

Food trials are the gold standard and confirmatory test for pinpointing food allergens. This test is more accurate than the RAST test when it comes to finding allergic triggers in food. The outcome of this test is that pet parents will get actionable information for optimizing their pet’s diet.

c. Skin Test

The skin test is the gold standard and confirmatory test for pinpointing environmental allergens. This test is not commonly recommended unless a pet parent is interested in doing hyposensitization therapy. To proceed with a skin test for dogs and cats, pet parents will need a referral to a dermatologist.

Note: If you would like to have your pet tested for allergies, schedule an appointment with Sploot today!
A veterinarian testing a cat for allergies in Sploot Veterinary Care, a clinic with locations in Denver and Chicago

2. Hyposensitization Therapy

Also known as allergen-specific immunotherapy or allergy shots, hyposensitization therapy is a treatment approach designed to alleviate or reduce allergic reactions in dogs and cats using gradual exposure to the allergen. This therapeutic approach may be recommended for select patients, depending on their individual needs.

3. Dietary and/or Lifestyle Prescriptions

After a cat or dog with allergies has been assessed by a veterinarian, the pet parent will be given tips to help minimize allergic episodes. Here are a few common examples:

  • Trying out AAFCO-certified dog food or cat food and treats that don’t have the pet’s allergen— (for food allergies)
  • Scheduling walks to avoid high pollen count during certain seasons — (for environmental allergies)
  • Regularly wiping down the dog’s coat after walks during allergy seasons — (for environmental allergies)
  • Flea removal and flea prevention — (for allergies to flea saliva)

4. Medications

Dogs and cats with allergies may benefit from having anti-allergy medication, which can be administered either as a maintenance dose or as needed. This depends on the specific needs of a dog or cat. 

Here are a few common medications prescribed for allergies in dogs and cats: 

  • Antihistamine — for dogs and cats; given as needed
  • Apoquel — for dogs; can be given long-term or as a maintenance dose if needed 
  • Cytopoint injection — for dogs, typically given for long-lasting relief during allergy seasons.
  • Cyclosporine — for dogs and cats, typically given as a substitute for other anti-allergy medications.
Note: It’s important to get a veterinarian’s recommendation for all of the above medications. A veterinarian will determine the safe dose and frequency to prevent toxicity and contraindications.

5. Optimizing Ear Care

Allergies in dogs and cats can lead to an increased production of sebum in the pet’s ears. This makes them more susceptible to ear infections in dogs and cats. Veterinarians can give ear care recommendations to reduce incidents of ear infections in pets with allergies. 

Final Thoughts About Allergies in Dogs & Cats

We hope you found this guide helpful! If you have specific questions about allergies in dogs and cats (whether it’s regarding food allergies, seasonal allergies, or other types of allergies in cats and dogs) our team is here for you. 

Sploot Veterinary Care is a primary & urgent pet care clinic with multiple clinic locations, operating for extended hours. Book a visit online or through the Sploot Vets app. We accept same-day appointments and urgent-intake appointments.

Till next time, we’re with you every pounce of the way!