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Pet Allergies – What causes pet allergies and what you can do to treat them.

It starts.

If you haven’t broken out your Claritin or Zyrtec already, count yourself blessed. As I ready my allergy meds for the day (oh, there’s more than one), I look outside to notice the coating of yellow on my car and porch. Perhaps, because I’m hyper-allergic, I’m also hyper-aware. I also imagine my small white terrier mix, Avery, is sometimes a few shades closer to yellow than white when she comes in from outside. Maybe it’s just me…or maybe she really is becoming a traveling pollen cloud.

At any rate, my allergy triggers put me on vigilant watch for my kids, both human and non-human.

So, how do you know if your pet is having an allergic reaction? Here are a few commons symptoms to look for:

  • Consistent itching/scratching
  • Licking/gnawing of paws
  • Poor skin/coat health (itchy, red, moist)
  • Hot spots
  • Ear infections
  • Constant licking
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • Diarrehea
  • Vomiting
  • Sneezing
  • Snoring (caused by throat inflammation)

So, what causes these allergy symptoms? Surprisingly enough, the most common allergy triggers for pets is not environmental triggers, or even food triggers, it’s fleas. Yep. Fleas.

The hierarchy of pet allergen triggers goes something like this:

  • Fleas/Flea Bite Dermatitis (most common)
  • Environmental Triggers (pollens, grasses, household cleaning agents, etc.) (common)
  • Foods/Treats (least common)

What to do?

Start a journal and create an attack plan. Starting a pet journal will help you identify allergen triggers so that you can discuss them with your vet. Note all the symptoms, when they appear, and note other facts about the day. Did you take a walk? What time was it? Note the month, day, and time. Did you change floor cleaning chemicals? How about laundry detergent? Did Fido roll in the new plants? Did you give Fifi a piece of chicken from your lunch? Keeping a journal will help you notate and look for patterns that will help you identify your pet’s allergen triggers.

Thankfully, in today’s busy world, most people don’t even have to keep one long. When you commit to watching your pet’s interactions in the world, you may discover the trigger or triggers in as little as a few days to a week!

Get rid of fleas. Personally, I’m a HUGE proponent of natural-anything. Call it the hippie in me, but as thankful as I am for Western medicine, I tend to try the au-naturel route first, and proceed with Western medicine options only if the natural route does not offer the results I require.

That said, South Carolina has TERRIBLE FLEAS. I’m not sure where these alien-hybrid invaders come from, but I literally pray every winter for deep freezes to kill those blood-suckers as much as possible.

My suggestion? Look up your pet’s flea preventative here: Check to see how toxic your flea preventative is on their 1 to 3 paw scale. If your flea preventative is a 2 or 3 paw toxicity, look for a solution that’s a 1 paw or lower.

I ♥ this shampoo!

Personally, I’m a big fan of Sentinel to break the flea life cycle (it’s a 1-paw on the toxicity chart and also prevents heartworms and other icky worms). I wash Avery weekly in our Tropiclean Neem Shampoo to kill any adult fleas (which generally make up 5% or less than fleas you might see in your home anyway), and I give her a daily spritz with the Ark Naturals Protect spray we carry to ward off those little buggers.

Last season, I think I pulled 3 fleas off Avery. Not too bad, I say.

Now, if you want to go the all-natural route, here are a few possibilities:

  • Neem-based shampoos and sprays
  • Diatomaceous earth
  • Garlic and/or Brewer’s Yeast
  • Beneficial Nematodes

There is so much I could say about each of these options, I will review them more in depth in a later post. For now, Google is your friend. Each has AMAZING benefits as well as drawbacks. I will say beware of garlic though. Some pet owners swear by it, but it can cause anemia in pets as well.

Out of those options, Neem was the least invasive, the least amount of work, and presented the safest use option for a large pet population, which is why I opted to add it to our product offerings.

You can check it out on our site here:

Environmental Triggers. Killed the fleas? Still have issues? Refer to your journal. Has Fifi had these symptoms year-round or did they just start? Look for patterns when you expose your pet to various situations.

As far as treatment options, some pets are affected by grass and pollen levels, especially those smaller breeds closer to ground.

  • Wipe off Fido’s paws and fur when he comes in from outside with a wet wipe or rag. This will keep him from licking himself and ingesting the pollen. (Tip: Some folks use Apple Cider Vinegar when wiping off the paws. Excellent choice with two benefits! Apple cider vinegar is a natural antihistamine and doesn’t taste very good, which could curb paw licking. You can also soak the paws in apple cider vinegar for maximum benefit.)
  • Treat your fur-baby to a weekly bath with a gentle, non-drying shampoo, like Cloudstar Buddy Wash or Tropiclean Neem Shampoo (for serious itch relief).
  • Add apple cider vinegar to your dog’s diet. Some breeders add ACV to their dog’s water bowl. ACV has tons of amazing health benefits, including healthier skin and coat, which looks great when in the competition ring. If your pup is not a fan of ACV flavored water, you can try apple cider vinegar in a simple ingredient, lowest possible dose pill format, like this one. (NOTE: Apple cider vinegar, like any supplement should be discussed with your vet first.) I will be posting a full blog on treating your pet’s allergies with Apple Cider Vinegar soon!

Food Allergens. Food allergens tend to be the least likely cause of pet allergies for most pets, however, for a pet suffering from multiple allergens (food and environmental, or food and fleas), reducing the amount of exposure to allergens will bring much-needed relief.

The most common pet food grain allergens are:

  • corn
  • wheat
  • soy

As these common grains contribute to a lot of allergy symptoms in pets, it’s no wonder why so many folks have hopped on the “grain free food” wagon. While meat should always be the first ingredient in any dry commercial pet food, low-allergen whole grainscan be beneficial to dogs, serving as prebiotics (or food) for the probiotic bacteria that grow and thrive in the digestion tract. So, unless your pet has severe grain allergies, I always recommend to switch to a low-allergen grain source, like rice, pearled millet, or oatmeal, which we use in our recipes.

If you have successfully gotten rid of corn, wheat, and soy from your pet’s food AND TREATS (don’t forget those!), and Fido is still itchy, try changing protein sources. Chicken and beef are common protein allergens in dogs. Switching to a fish or fowl-based protein may bring relief.

With any food or dietary changes, make sure to transition your pet to the new food gradually, over the course of one week. Generally, when switching to a better quality food, you may see some results in your pet’s overall health and appearance in as little as one week. Look for full results after a 2-3 months.