Allergies to animals are a bummer at best (no puppy cuddles for you!) and life-threatening at worst. Research suggests that up to 20% of people worldwide are allergic to dogs and/or cats—but there’s a growing number of animals being treated for allergies of their own.
While there’s no solid data on the prevalence of allergies in pets, anecdotal evidence suggests that around 10% of animals may have some type of allergy. The most common pet allergies are to fleas, plants, and dust mites—not unlike humans, says Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinary health expert with Rover.com. In some rare cases, pets may actually be allergic to each other.
If you think your pet may have allergies, there are a few signs to look out for:
- Itchy, red or inflamed skin
- Chewing on paws
- Infections (skin or ear)
- Respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing or wheezing)
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting or diarrhea)
Richter says that if pets are allergic to another animal, symptoms are most likely related to appear on the skin or in the respiratory system. If your pet is showing any of these signs, the first step before trying any type of treatment is to make an appointment with your veterinarian.
While pet allergies can be managed, they aren’t preventable, and there’s no cure. Here are a few options your vet may suggest.
Test and treat
Treating pet allergies often takes a lot of time, effort, and money. Like humans, pets may get some relief from allergy shots, but these are generally available only after extensive testing, and only if the allergy is environmental, says Dr. Tory Waxman, chief veterinary officer at Sundays for Dogs. There are also a variety of other pharmaceutical options with varying side effects as well as more natural therapies. Again, talk to your vet.
Look at your pet’s diet
Pets can be allergic to certain foods—and food can exacerbate allergies. Waxman says there’s no effective test for food allergies in pets, but your vet can help you set up an elimination diet to narrow down the cause. Adjusting your pet’s food may also alleviate other allergy symptoms.
“Providing optimal nutrition and supplementation can help the body/immune system function better and thus, hopefully limit allergies and allergic responses,” says Richter.
Keep your pet clean
If you notice that your pet gets especially itchy during certain seasons, Dr. Waxman recommends wiping down their coats and paws whenever they come inside to minimize ongoing exposure to environmental allergens.
Keep your home clean
Similar to humans, pet allergies can be exacerbated by their environment. Make sure your home has good air circulation, and clean it regularly.
If you can avoid or eliminate the allergen entirely, that’s obviously the goal. But if one of your pets is allergic to another, that may not be possible, and addressing the symptoms is your best option.
“People need to be diligent with what works,” Richter says, adding that “at the end of the day, allergies are something that some pets/people just have to deal with and manage.”