There are two types of allergies your pet can suffer from:
The cause of all your pet’s allergic reactions will fall into one of those two categories.
Just as your dog or cat can have an allergy to any type of food or ingredient, they can also be allergic to an infinite number of irritants in their environment. And not just things like ragweed, grasses, pollens, molds and dust mites, but also materials like wool or cotton, and chemicals like those found in cleaning products.
Your Pet Depends on You
It’s important to realize that you and I have the ability to remove ourselves from an environmental irritant if we are having an allergic reaction. But our pets rely on us to keep them safe, comfortable and healthy.
Our pets are our captives when it comes to their environment. They are stuck with whatever we provide for them.
They have to eat what we feed them, even if it doesn’t agree with them. They have to stay in the environment we put them in, regardless of whether it’s comfortable or not. If your dog or cat is allergic to something in its environment, it can’t get away from the irritant, especially if it’s confined as most pets are to some extent.
If your pet has an allergy to its indoor environment, it will exhibit symptoms throughout the year. If the allergy is to an outdoor irritant, your dog or cat may have seasonal reactions.
How Allergic Sensitivity Develops in Your Pet
Your pet’s immune system is based on genetics (nature) and environment (nurture).
Your dog or cat might have a genetic predisposition toward an allergic reaction (an over-immune response) to certain irritants.
The cycle I’ve seen often in my practice goes like this:
A young dog or cat, say four to six months of age, is brought in with a little red belly, itchy ears, and maybe an infection in one ear.
The following spring or summer, I’ll see the animal again for very itchy feet, another ear infection, a hotspot or two and an itchy belly. All these symptoms disappear in the colder months.
Year three, the pet is suffering from May through September with red, inflamed skin, maybe some hair loss, an increased number of hotspots, frequent ear infections, and a tendency to chew it’s paws until they bleed.
By year five, the situation is significantly worse and year round.
What usually happens with environmental allergies is the more your pet is exposed to those irritants, the more intense their allergic response becomes.
How to Help Your Allergic Pet
The following tips will help you evaluate and alleviate your pet’s suffering due to environmental allergies.
How is the air quality in your pet’s environment?
Our pets are much more sensitive to second-hand smoke and other airborne toxins than we are.
Their noses are six to seven times more sensitive when it comes to identifying toxins in the air.
Making sure no one smokes in your pet’s environment and switching to non-toxic cleaners and other chemicals can dramatically reduce your dog’s or cat’s exposure to environmental toxins.
You can also invest in an air purifier, as they do a very good job removing dust mites.
If you can’t improve the air quality of your pet’s environment, moving them to a more comfortable setting might also be an option.
Make sure your pet is drinking fresh, good quality water.
When we think about the quality of drinking water, we’re usually concerned only with the water we drink.
Your pet deserves clean, pure water, too – water that doesn’t contain fluoride, heavy metals or other contaminants.
If you’re not filtering your dog’s or cat’s drinking water and you have a pet who’s having an allergic response, I highly recommend you improve the quality of the water your pet drinks.
Be careful not to over-vaccinate or over-medicate your pet.
Dogs, in particular, seem to be the victims when it comes to the number of unnecessary vaccinations and, for example, flea and tick preventive medicines. Sadly, indoor housecats are vaccinated annually as well, despite their exposure to many viruses being non-existent.
Fleas and ticks can be a problem in many regions of the U.S. and elsewhere, but there are safer options than monthly applications of harsh chemicals.
If you notice your pet gets very itchy after a chemical application or treatment, you’ll want to give serious thought to other options to prevent or treat the problem. Switching to natural, less reactive substances for flea and tick prevention is a good place to start.
Also give some thought to the number of vaccines being injected into your pet’s body.
Your pet has its own natural immunity to disease, just like you and I do. And while you want to make sure your dog or cat is protected against disease, there’s a huge difference between protecting them and making their bodies toxic with vaccines.
Over vaccinating your pet can make their immune system hyper sensitive and more prone to allergic reactions. Anytime a vaccination stimulates your pet’s immune system, it also has the potential to trigger an overreaction. That’s the purpose of a vaccine – to incite an immunologic response. Over-vaccination can incite an over-immune reaction.
Triggering this immunologic response year after year without a break can make your pet much more prone to allergic responses to environmental irritants.
Bathe your pet.
If you suspect your pet may have environmental allergies, I encourage you to watch my bathing videos.
Bathing is the most underutilized form of therapy for dogs and cats with irritated skin. Bathing rinses the allergens away, bringing immediate relief to your pet.
If you think your floor cleaner, for example, has caused an allergic reaction in your dog, get your pet in some water and rinse away those chemical irritants.
Bathing is called “irrigation therapy” in veterinary medicine, which is a fancy term for rinsing your pet with water. There’s also a myth in my profession that pets shouldn’t be bathed, and I’m here to dispel it.
Imagine your pet as it truly is –naked, fuzzy, barefoot and low to the ground. If your dog or cat has come in contact with something that is causing an itch, the best thing you can do is put your pet in water, lather them up and rinse them clean.
Another way to view your pet is as sort of a walking Swiffer ®cleaning tool. Your dog or cat can only sweat through its nose, and the bottom of its feet. So your pet’s feet are like little wet Swiffers®, picking up outside pollens, ragweed, molds, spores – and bringing them inside.
If your pet happens to be sensitive to those environmental allergens, now they’re inside, and on their feet, and they can get tremendously itchy.
Check out the foot soaking portion of the bathing videos linked above, and rinse your pet’s feet off if you suspect they are bringing outdoor allergens inside.
Assess the overall lifestyle of your pet.
Think about the foods they eat and the chemicals and toxins they are exposed to both indoors and outside. Think about your cleaning products, especially those you use on the floor and on furniture your pet has access to. Outside, think about ragweed and other types of natural pollens, pesticides and fertilizers.
These are all potential irritants which can upset your pet’s immune system and trigger an over reactive allergic response.
As you consider your pet’s lifestyle, think about specific times they have had an allergic reaction and try to match of those times with things in their environment that could be irritants.
By thinking carefully about your pet’s lifestyle, you’ll be better able to make choices about how to reduce the amount of allergens in your dog’s or cat’s environment. This will help to alleviate or even eliminate your pet’s allergic responses.
If you haven’t already considered feeding your pet a more species-appropriate diet (eliminating unnecessary carbs such as corn, wheat, rice and soy), now is a good time to consider how food plays into your pet’s overall immune response. Feeding a biologically appropriate diet will naturally help reduce your pet’s inflammatory response and reduce the likelihood of food allergies developing.