Last Update: December 22, 2023
Just like their human companions, dogs and cats can suffer from allergies too. Whether it’s seasonal itchiness in the summer heat, year-round food sensitivities, or a coat that needs extra TLC, this guide breaks down how to help pets with allergies, including some of the most common symptoms to look out for, plus natural remedies to offer relief.
The formal definition of pet allergies (described by the animal hospital network VCA) is “a state of over-reactivity or hypersensitivity of the immune system to a particular substance called an allergen.” Types of allergies can range, but there are three main culprits to be on the lookout for: skin, food, and environmental.
It’s a common question even for the most seasoned pet parents. If you start to notice any unusual behavior such as scratching, itching, or digestive problems, Dr. Linda Simons, MVB MRCVS recommends keeping a symptom diary. “You may notice a pattern. For example, those who have the most symptoms in the summer may have pollen allergies. Conversely, those who itch all year round could be allergic to their diet.”
No matter the allergy, getting to the root cause of it will be important for the long-term health of your pet, so plan to work closely with your vet to make a plan. In her practice, Dr. Simons finds that allergies, secondary skin infections, ear infections, and anal gland infections go hand in hand. “We frequently find that pets are suffering from more than one condition when they are presented to us. This is why it’s so important to have them seen by a vet for a full check over.”
According to the American Kennel Club, skin allergies (aka dermatitis) are the most common types of allergic reactions in dogs and can cause a variety of symptoms. Some dogs are allergic to flea saliva, which can result in extreme itchiness. Food allergies or ingredient sensitivities (see below) can also lead to itchy skin or GI upset. And dust, pollen, and mold can cause atopic reactions that are often the result of seasonal allergies that crop up at certain times of year.
Cat allergies are also common, especially from flea saliva. Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS, on the veterinary advisory board at Miss Cats, shares that “usually, pet owners will see their cats licking and chewing at their back or scratching their neck. Further investigation usually reveals lumps and bumps in a rash, some of which may bleed or get infected.” Cats can also be allergic to inhaled allergens, like pollens and dander, which may be a cause of feline asthma.
The most common dog food allergy symptoms are:
While these are obvious signs, more subtle changes like weight loss, lack of energy, and hyperactivity can also be signs that something is amiss. If you notice any of these symptoms, take a closer look at your pet’s diet. Although any ingredient has the potential to be an allergen, a few are most common than others:
Cats with food allergies may experience year-round itching and skin inflammation. Pay close attention to areas like the face, ears, groin, belly, and legs and paws. Pet’s may overgroom these areas, leading to potential hair loss. In addition to skin issues, some cats may experience digestive problems like having frequent bowel movements. Ingredients that most often cause food allergies include:
For pets with diagnosed food sensitivities or allergies, Dr. Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM recommends a hydrolyzed hypoallergenic diet, which might require a vet prescription. Hydrolyzed food “is broken down to be so small that the immune system does not react to the allergen.” If you buy large bags of food, Dr. Choczynski Johnson has a tip: “Package it in small ziplock bags, or even put them in the freezer. Dog food can grow grain storage mites, which can also induce allergies.”
If you’re interested in a DIY approach and want to cook meals yourself, Dr. Simons suggests working with a nutritionist. “This is because creating a diet plan at home can commonly result in a pet developing nutritional deficiencies.” You’ll want to create a diet rich in whole food ingredients like salmon, vegetables, and sweet potato.
If you suspect your pet has a food allergy, you and your vet can run a food trial experiment (usually for between 6 and 8 weeks), followed by a food challenge, which introduces proteins back into their diet to see how they respond. (In order to run the experiment, you’ll need to feed your pet a diet that doesn’t include any proteins they’ve been exposed to previously, often referred to as “novel proteins.”)
It may be tempting to cycle through all the possible options out there in search of the secret recipe that solves pet allergies for good. From freshly cooked meals you keep in the fridge to novel proteins like rabbit, there are many routes to take, but you’ll likely save time, money, and stress by working closely with your vet to make a plan that works for you and your furry family member.
Just like pet parents, seasonal allergies can impact dogs and cats too. Common environmental allergens include:
Symptoms of environmental allergies may include:
While underlying causes likely need to be addressed (don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your vet!), there are also lots of natural remedies available that can help your pet feel more comfortable.
Ultimately, pet allergy management is a long game. It may require some trial and error to see what types of treatments work for your pet, so don’t lose heart. Keep an eye on their symptoms, build a strong relationship with your vet, and provide optimal nutrition to give their immune systems the best chance to thrive. To care for your pet, our lineup of supplements, shampoos, foods, and pest sprays curb chemicals and artificial ingredients for gentler solutions that are safe for dogs and cats of all ages.
Treat your cat to this gluten- and grain-free powder that delivers 20 billion live active cultures from 10 raw probiotic strains that promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Member Erica from Connecticut reports that after using this for two months, she’s noticed her two cats have had “such an improvement in their bowels and their coat is shiny and healthy.”
Here’s a raw, dehydrated meal brimming with good-for-you ingredients like lean turkey, carrots, flaxseeds, kelp, and spinach. Just add water and dinner is served.
This unscented wash is ideal for sensitive skin, made using nourishing oatmeal and soothing aloe to help rid your pet’s coat of odors and dirt while keeping their hair extra soft.
Created specifically to support joint health, Primalvore’s grass-fed bone broth is fortified with collagen peptides for added nutrition. Use it as a topper or a between-meal treat.
No harsh chemicals here—this flea and tick spray uses lavender, cedar, and peppermint essential oils to help repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes.
This delectable paté offers your feline all the nutrition she needs, complete with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, organic chicken—and no grains. Member Diane from Michigan says her cat is “head over tails for it.”
Made with New Zealand lamb and tender sweet potatoes, this wet food is ideal for dogs who crave high-quality protein but may experience allergies with other recipes.
To deliver your dog or cat their daily dose of omega-3s, Nordic Naturals sustainably sources sardines and anchovies. Member Kristi from Oregon uses it for her two dogs after it was recommended by her vet to help with their skin issues. “We just mix it with their food and they gobble it right up!”
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