Common Pet Allergies

By: Dr. Veja Tillman, DVM


An allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts and produces antibodies to substances that it would normally tolerate. This excessive response is considered an allergic or hypersensitive reaction. Allergies can develop into any substance that a pet is exposed to. Food, fleas, seasonal environmental allergens (grasses or pollens), or indoor allergens (dust mites and molds).


The immune system’s job is to keep you healthy by fighting harmful pathogens. It does this by attacking anything it thinks could put your body in danger. Depending on the allergen, this response may involve inflammation, or a host of other symptoms.

The most common symptom associated with allergies is localized (in one area) or generalized (all over the body) itching of the skin and ears. In some pets, licking or chewing the feet, limbs or belly or recurrent ear infections may be the only symptom of allergies. In some cases, the symptoms involve the respiratory system, with coughing, sneezing, and/or wheezing. Sometimes, there may be runny discharge from the eyes or nose. In other cases, allergies affect the digestive system, resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, or chronic anal gland issues.


Allergies are very common and often occur after the age of 6 months. They are more commonly seen around the age of 1-2 years old. This is because it takes time for the body to become sensitized to the substance the pet is allergic to. Common pet allergies include contact allergies, food allergies, environmental allergies (or a more severe form termed Atopic Dermatitis) and flea allergies.


Diagnosing allergies can sometimes be difficult. Especially since the signs of allergies can be confused with other disorders, or they can occur simultaneously. Be prepared for your pet to a full diagnostic evaluation to rule out other causes of itching and skin problems. Your veterinarian will also discuss allergy testing either by a blood test or skin prick test.


Because there is no one size fits all treatment for allergies, there are many allergy treatments available for pets. Allergy treatment and control may take several months of trial and error to find a protocol that best controls your pets’ signs effectively


  • Anti-itch therapy : Use of daily oral or injectable medications that block itching and inflammation.
  • Medicated shampoos which help keep the skin barrier healthy and prevent secondary infections
  • Antihistamines aid in reducing sneezing and watery eyes.
  • Special Diets which help pets avoid food allergens and help strengthen the skins barrier.
  • Hyposensitization: Allergy shots which contain very small doses of allergens, given daily to desensitize the immune system.
  • Antibiotics and Topical ear medications: Sometimes used to treat secondary infections to help control allergy symptoms.

There is no cure for allergies. The goal of allergy treatment is to control the clinical signs and keep your pet happy and healthy. It is important to maintain contact with your veterinarian to adjust treatments for your pet based on their response.

If you suspect that your pet may have allergies, make an appointment to have them evaluated by your veterinarian today.


Dr. Tillman is a 2002 graduate of Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. Her veterinary practice and work experience focus on patients at emergency and critical care centers in Southwest Florida. She is the owner of Just 4 Pets Wellness Center and can be reached at 239-270-5721.

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