What Are Allergies in Dogs and Cats?

Allergies in dogs and cats occur when the immune system overreacts to something that isn't really a threat. For example, reacting to peanuts, air-borne pollen, or laundry detergent—none of which should cause harm. The material that causes an allergic reaction is called an antigen. Antigens are usually proteins. The term "allergen" is often used rather than the term antigen, but these two terms are slightly different. Antigen refers to any substance causing allergies, and allergen refers to ingested or air-borne substances causing allergies.

It helps to group antigens into three categories and to realize that your pet can be allergic to materials from more than one category:

What your pet eats (foods, additives, preservatives, dyes, food storage mites);What your pet breathes (cigarette smoke, pollens, perfumes, particles released from carpet underlays, cat dander, decks treated with a preservative); andWhat your pet's skin comes into contact with (dust mites, fleas, soaps, wool).

Pet allergies are additive so that the more antigens your pet is exposed to, the more severe the symptoms. For example, pets with allergies to beef often develop more extreme symptoms in the spring when surrounded with high levels of pollens.

What causes allergies in dogs and cats?

Your pet's immune system overreacting causes him or her to have allergies. The immune system protects pets from foreign material and should react strongly to threats such as bacteria, but should not react strongly to materials such as cedar, wheat, and dust mites.

Allergy symptoms are caused when the immune system's white blood cells (WBC) sense an allergen and stimulate histamine release. Histamine dilates capillaries so that fluid leaks from the blood vessels and the area becomes hot, swollen, puffy, and itchy. Allergic symptoms can be stopped by blocking WBC or by blocking histamine with antihistamines (Benadryl) and steroids (such as Prednisone).

Common allergies in dogs and cats

The most common cause of pet allergies are flea bites. Skin irritations, hot spots, hair loss and scratching that leads to superficial skin wounds are often caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva. Protecting your pet against fleas is one of the most effective ways to prevent skin allergies and hot spots. After fleas, pets are commonly allergic to beef, dairy, wheat, fish, pollens, eggs, yeast, chicken, pork, lamb, corn, soybeans, and rice.

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