Pet Health


By September 8, 2022 December 6th, 2022 No Comments

Itchy, itchy, scratch, scratch…Your pet might have allergies!

If your dog or cat is scratching through the night and can’t seem to get relief, they just might have allergies. Dogs and cats suffer from allergies just like humans do, but their symptoms tend to be different. Understanding the “what” and the “why” of pet allergies is the best way to help your pet find relief.


Allergy basics

An allergy results when the immune system overreacts or becomes hypersensitive to a harmless and often common substance (called an allergen) that enters or comes in contact with the body. Essentially, the immune system thinks the substance/allergen is dangerous and tries to destroy it. You can think of an allergy like an oversensitive car alarm that sounds at the slightest trigger.


Signs and symptoms of pet allergies

Most pets with allergies have skin issues. Itching is often the main symptom, causing allergic pets to:

  • Scratch obsessively
  • Rub against furniture
  • Shake their head
  • Frequently lick, chew, bite, or groom themselves, sometimes to the point where they cause hair loss or hot spots (painful, raw, inflamed areas on the skin that may bleed)


Some pets with allergies also develop bacterial or yeast infections from excessive scratching and overgrooming. These are called “secondary infections”, and will occasionally have a noticeable odour, and contribute to your pet’s itch and discomfort.


Types of pet allergies


Seasonal allergies and atopy 

Seasonal allergy and atopy describe the same type of allergic skin disease. Most dogs with atopy experience itching during certain seasons. Other affected dogs will have problems year-round, which means that the allergen is constantly present or that the dog has developed multiple allergies.


  • Seasonal allergies are typically caused by trees, weeds, and other plants that pollinate during a specific time of year, as well as some moulds that tend to bloom indoors and outdoors.
  • Around the Golden Horseshoe, pets may encounter pollen in the spring from the large numbers of maple, oak, and birch trees. Pets may also have allergies in June and July to grasses like Bermuda, Orchard, and Timothy. Later in the summer and into the fall, ragweed may be responsible for allergy symptoms in pets.
  • Common allergens that cause problems year-round include house dust mites, storage mites, and mould spores.


Signs of seasonal allergies or atopy include:

  • Chewing or licking the feet, resulting in red, swollen paws or brown staining on the feet.
  • Ear inflammation or infections.
  • Anal gland issues.
  • Seasonal allergies can cause nasal discharge and sneezing (less common allergy symptoms in pets).
  • Irritation and itching (with or without hair loss) can also occur in the groin, underarms, ankles and around a pet’s eyes or muzzle.


Flea allergies

When fleas bite, pets can have an allergic reaction to certain proteins in the fleas’ saliva. This is  sometimes called flea bite hypersensitivity and can lead to flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). FAD may be more common in warmer months, but it can occur year-round because fleas can survive indoors throughout the year.

Pets with flea allergy dermatitis often have:

  • An itchy rash or raw, irritated areas on their skin
  • Hair loss in specific patterns
    • Cats: around the head, neck, lower back, stomach, and thighs
    • Dogs: around the tail, back legs, and stomach


Food allergies

Allergies to food are not that common in pets, but they can happen.

  • Grains are an uncommon cause of allergies in pets, whereas animal proteins like chicken, beef, eggs, fish, or dairy are the cause of most pet food allergies.
  • Most pets who have issues with food have a food intolerance to a certain ingredient or property of the food; this is not an allergy because it doesn’t trigger the immune system. Unlike with an allergy, food intolerances can occur the first time your pet eats the food.
  • Pets with food allergies can have gastrointestinal symptoms, like vomiting and diarrhea, in addition to itchy skin.


Getting your pet relief from allergies

Allergies can be tricky to treat in pets. Some dogs and cats respond quickly to treatment, whereas others may need longer-term management.

For seasonal and other environmental allergies:

  • Bathe your pet after they’ve been outside to remove pollen and other allergens. Ask Dr. Zak for pet shampoo recommendations.
  • Wash your pet’s bedding frequently to minimize their exposure to allergens.
  • We can prescribe oral and/or topical medications to give your pet relief.
  • Some pets might benefit from allergen-specific immunotherapy (commonly known as allergy shots), which desensitizes pets to specific allergens over time.
  • There are also some newer oral and injectable treatment options (also called immune modulators) to help itchy pets. These can provide rapid and long-term relief for pets with allergies.
  • Any secondary yeast or bacterial infections need to be treated, so we may run lab tests to make sure we’re targeting the right culprit and giving your pet the most effective treatment.


For flea and food allergies:

  • Flea allergy can be treated and prevented by keeping pets on flea control products. We may also prescribe other medications, depending on the individual pet.
  • We have special hypoallergenic diets and other options Dr. Zak can recommend for pets with food allergies.


If your pet is showing signs of allergies or you’re concerned about your itchy pet, give us a call, or schedule an appointment with Dr. Zak today. We’ll rule out other potential causes of your pet’s symptoms and work with you to tailor therapy to your pet.


Dr. Zak at Parkside Animal Hospital will help your allergic pets get the relief they deserve!

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