Our last medical article discussed signs of allergies and common types of allergies in pets. We warned you that itchy pets sometimes have ringworm, mange, fleas or other diseases that could spread to people, so always see your vet to make sure your pet doesn’t have something you can catch.
If you missed the previous entry, catch up here.
So how can we make allergic pets more comfortable? Pets with mild allergies can be helped with some the easy suggestions described below.
As always, check with your vet to make sure any suggestions are right for your unique pet. This is especially true if your pet has scabs, scrapes, crusting, or red & inflamed wounds, since they might have an infection that needs to be treated to help stop your pets itching.
1. CLEANING AWAY ALLERGENS
a. WIPING FEET – If your pet licks his or her paws, try wiping the top and bottom of their feet (including between their toes) with a clean, warm, wet washcloth or plain baby wipes. Do this each time he or she comes in from being outside.
b. WEEKLY BATHS – If your pet gets itchy all over, try bathing him or her once a week with an oatmeal or hypoallergenic shampoo, focusing the lather on your pet’s itchiest areas. Let the shampoo sit for 5 minutes before rinsing it off. When patients are itchy enough that they are coming to see me, I send home a hypoallergenic shampoo with a topical anesthetic in it to help make pets even more comfortable.
DO NOT use human shampoos on pets. Pets have fur to protect their skin, so their skin is more delicate than ours. Since even baby shampoo can be too harsh, use a shampoo made for dogs or cats. Bathing too much can dry out skin, so unless your veterinarian recommends otherwise, do not bathe your pet more than once a week.
c. WEEKLY EAR CLEANING – If your pet is currently itching their ears, take them to the vet to make sure they do not have an infection to clear up first. Some pets with ear infections may have a broken eardrum and putting any cleaner or medicine in the ear could be dangerous to your pet’s hearing and sense of balance.
If your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead, clean their ears up to once a week with a mild, slightly acidic ear cleaner like Epi-Otic or Vet Solutions that you can get from your veterinarian. Cleaning ears too much can cause more damage than good, so unless your veterinarian tells you otherwise, do not clean your pet’s ears more than once a week. Your vet can show you the proper way to clean your pet’s ears.
Some pets respond well to certain anti-histamines. While no over the counter antihistamine has specifically been tested and approved for pets, vets have a long history of good results with some anti-histamines used in people. Your veterinarian can recommend a medication and dose that may help your pet. Again, check with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is healthy enough to use this medication. While this class of drugs is generally safe, every drug has potential side effects.
If the first anti-histamine does not work, it may be worth trying another one. Just like in people some anti-histamines work better for one person than for another. Your veterinarian can talk with you about more options and safe doses.
*** NEVER give a pet a medication that has a decongestant in it. These are TOXIC to pets. ***
3. FLEA CONTROL
Flea allergies are the second most common pet allergy. This makes them even more common than food allergies. Your pet does not have to be infested with fleas to have a flea allergy. Even a single bite from a flea outside or hitchhiking into your home can cause your pet to become itchy all over.
Using a good quality flea prevention once a month, all year round, can help your pet. For indoor cats I recommend Revolution, for outdoor cats I recommend Frontline Plus, and for allergic dogs I recommend Advantix since it not only kills fleas but also has some repellant action. These products are generally more effective and safer than the older products sold over the counter, but again, check with your vet to make sure these medications are safe for your specific pet.
Since these medications live on the oil layer of the skin, do not bathe your pet within 48 hours before or after putting on the medication. It is also important to put the medication directly on the skin as opposed to into the fur.
Seeing a pet respond well to consistent flea control after years of trying to treat his or her allergies is a frustration that is easy to avoid.
4. HIGHER QUALITY FOOD
The foundation of a good coat and healthy skin is the right amount protein and fat. Pets with allergies often benefit from switching to a food that has more energy coming from protein and fat than their previous food. On the flip side, too much protein and fat can sometimes cause diarrhea, a greasy/oily coat, and is bad for pets with certain health issues like kidney disease or pancreatitis, among others.
Talk with your veterinarian about what food your pet is currently on and if there is another food that they recommend. Always switch a pet from one food to another slowly over 2-3 weeks to prevent stomach upset.
Some people swear by “grain free” foods. When pets get food allergies they almost always get allergies to proteins. Proteins can come from corn, wheat, and other grains but also from meats such as beef, chicken, or pork. It is actually more common for pets to have allergies to meat, dairy, or eggs than to grains.
Owners who switch to grain free diets and have their pets respond well may be seeing the results of 1) a grain free diet having more fat and protein in it since the carbohydrate sources (like peas, sweet potatoes, and others) are usually higher in protein or 2) they got lucky and their pet had an allergy to a grain but not to a meat.
For most pets, I am not sure it makes a big enough difference over other high-quality foods to be worth the extra money, but I do not think you harm pets that are otherwise healthy by putting them on a good grain free food.
Many companies offer blood tests to test your pet for food allergies. Vets I have worked with say that they see pretty good results when pets change foods based on the test’s recommendations. However, there is not great research to back up the accuracy of these tests. The test might miss something your pet is allergic to or say your pet is allergic to something they are not. The only true way to rule out a food allergy is through a hypoallergenic food trial, which you can ask your veterinarian more about.
Allergies are inflammatory, so some pets benefit from getting anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids added to their diet. Not to sound like a broken record, but again, check with your doctor to make sure these supplements are safe for your pet. Omega-3s can sometimes cause diarrhea in pets and should not be used in pets with bleeding disorders or in pets where we want inflammation to help fight off disease, as in cancer.
Since supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it is important to find a reliable product. Independent agencies have found that some Omega-3 pet supplements are contaminated or do not have the amount of the supplement that they claim on the bottle.
One well respected brands for pets with good quality control is Wellactin.
6. ADVANCED HELP
Some pets with allergies will not respond well to this kind of conservative treatment.
If your pet has more severe allergies, your veterinarian may discuss options like allergy testing, allergy shots, food trials, or oral immune suppressing drugs that can be helpful to your pet in the long term.
Allergies can be a very frustrating problem to treat and no single solution usually provides a cure. Hopefully this list can give you some things to try and some things to discuss with your vet, so that you can help your pet live a more comfortable, itch-free life.
Please remember that this blog is not a substitute for real-life veterinary advice. Your vet knows you and your pet best and you should talk with them before starting any course of treatment. Seeing, touching, and smelling your pet is essential to making a good treatment plan, none of which I can do from my blog (sorry).
More than anything, I hope these topics will encourage you to take your concerns to your veterinarian and help your pet feel better sooner.