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Mountainside 24/7 Animal Emergency

Asthma and Allergies in Pets

Boxer in Grass

May is often heralded as the beginning of spring allergy season, as thick yellow pollen clouds drift through the air and coat every surface, inside and out. In recognition of this fact, May has been designated as Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. Like people, pets can suffer from asthma and allergies, which can significantly impact their well-being and quality of life if not appropriately managed. Consider this guide as our Mountainside 24/7 Animal Emergency team’s timely reminder of Asthma and Allergy Month and learn about these conditions and how they can affect your pet.

Allergies in pets

Pets’ allergies can manifest in various forms, from skin irritation to gastrointestinal (GI) issues. Understanding the different allergy types that can affect your pet is key to effective management.

Environmental allergies in pets

Environmental allergies, also known as atopic dermatitis or atopy, develop when pets are exposed to environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mould, and certain plants. Affected pets often exhibit skin issues, but they can show any of the following signs:

  • Scratching, licking, and chewing

  • Skin inflammation

  • Hair loss

  • Hot spots

  • Ear infections

  • Anal gland issues

  • Sneezing

  • Eye discharge

Accurately diagnosing environmental allergies typically requires intradermal or blood testing to identify specific triggers. Treatment options include environmental modifications, medicated shampoos, topical treatments, immunotherapy (i.e., allergy shots), or prescription medications to manage signs.

Flea allergy dermatitis in pets

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva. Pets with FAD are hypersensitive to flea bites and may experience intense itching and skin irritation, showing allergy signs such as:

  • Severe itching, especially around their tail base, lower back, abdomen, and hind end

  • Redness, inflammation, and hair loss

  • Skin lesions and scabs

Preventing flea infestations through regular flea control measures, such as topical or oral flea preventives, is essential for managing FAD. Treatment may involve medicated shampoos, topical therapies, and prescription medications.

Contact allergies in pets

Contact allergies occur when pets come into direct contact with allergens such as certain plants, chemicals, fabrics, or materials. Common contact allergy signs in dogs and cats include:

  • Redness, itching, and swelling at the contact site

  • Hives, rashes, or blisters on the skin

  • Hair loss or skin lesions

Identifying and avoiding the specific allergen is key to managing your pet’s contact allergies. Treatment may involve topicals, such as medicated shampoos or ointments, and symptomatic relief with antihistamines or corticosteroids.

Food allergies in pets

Food allergies are the least common allergy type in pets. They occur when the immune system reacts to certain ingredients in the pet's diet, typically proteins such as beef, chicken, lamb, dairy, wheat, or soy. Food allergy signs may include:

  • Itchy skin, especially around the face, ears, paws, and belly

  • Chronic ear infections

  • GI issues such as vomiting, diarrhoea, or flatulence

An accurate food allergy diagnosis involves an elimination diet trial to identify the specific allergen. Treatment usually involves switching to a hypoallergenic diet or a novel protein diet to avoid the offending ingredient.

Asthma in pets

While asthma can develop in any pet, the condition is more common in cats. Being able to identify asthma in your pet will help ensure proper treatment to maintain a good quality of life for your four-legged friend.

Understanding feline asthma

Feline asthma is a respiratory condition characterized by airway inflammation and constriction. The exact cause of feline asthma is not fully understood, but the condition is believed to be triggered by environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mould, cigarette smoke, and household chemicals.

Feline asthma signs

Recognizing feline asthma signs is crucial for early detection and intervention. During an asthma attack, many cats will hunch close to the ground and extend their necks in a characteristic posture indicative of asthma. Common feline asthma signs may include:

  • Coughing or hacking

  • Wheezing

  • Laboured or rapid breathing

  • Open-mouth breathing or panting

  • Vomiting

Feline asthma diagnosis

Diagnosing feline asthma often requires a combination of a thorough physical exam, medical history review, and diagnostic imaging. In addition, your veterinarian may perform specialized tests such as bronchoscopy or airway lavage.

Feline asthma treatment

Feline asthma treatment aims to alleviate inflammation, open the airways, and manage signs to improve the cat's quality of life. Common treatment options for feline asthma may include:

  • Bronchodilators

  • Corticosteroids

  • Oxygen therapy

  • Environmental management

While feline asthma can often be managed through appropriate treatment and environmental modifications, the condition can progress to respiratory distress in severe cases. Respiratory distress occurs when cats experience significant difficulty breathing, accompanied by rapid or laboured breathing, open-mouth breathing, a blue tint to the lips or gums, and weakness or collapse. Respiratory distress is a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention to stabilize the cat's condition and provide supportive care.

Allergies and asthma can take a hefty toll on your pet’s health and rapidly devolve into a serious problem. If your four-legged friend is having difficulty breathing or developing skin sores and hot spots, contact our Mountainside 24/7 Animal Emergency team.