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WebMD Expert Discussion: Could Your Pet Have Allergies?

People often wonder if they're allergic to their pets. What if the opposite is true? Could your pet be allergic to you?

Well, probably not to you specifically, says guest veterinarian Will Draper, DVM, in the WebMD online discussion Caring for Your Pet. But pets can certainly have allergies. How can you tell if your dog or cat is allergic to something?

Although they may cough or sneeze like people with allergies do, the No. 1 sign of allergies in pets is scratching, scratching, and more scratching, says Draper. They may also develop hives or have the red, watery eyes and nasal discharge that are other classic symptoms of allergies in humans.

The leading cause of allergies in pets is - you might have guessed - flea bites. Pets also can develop a type of environmental allergy called atopy, which involves reactions to substances like dust, grass, and mold. (Sound familiar to you allergy sufferers out there?)

Pets can have allergic reactions to insect bites. These can be serious and cause respiratory distress. So if you see swelling on the skin after a bite, remember that there may be swelling internally too and keep an eye out for difficulty breathing.

Just as with human allergies, you need to find out the cause of your pet's allergies in order to treat them properly. The best treatment, Draper says, is avoiding the allergen. If the cause can't be determined, your vet may prescribe antihistamines, flea preventives, hypoallergenic shampoos, a special diet, or a combination of remedies.

One dog owner said she has had plenty of experience with pet allergies. Her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel had "classic" atopy, flea bite allergies, soap allergies, tree and grass allergies, and even allergies to cats and birds. The allergies lasted from about age 2 to age 10 and required a special diet and medications, including the steroid prednisone.

Her boxer, meanwhile, developed severe swelling after what she thinks was a spider bite. He was treated with another steroid, dexamethasone, and recovered, although she had to take a day off work to watch him for breathing problems.

Would you know if your pet had allergies? How have you dealt with it?

Discussion led by William Draper, DVM Guest Expert
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Dr. Will opened Georgia’s first accredited small animal emergency room in 2000. He’s been named Best Vet by Atlanta Magazine since 2004... More

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Veterinarian Will Draper gives tips on the best nutrition and health care for your dog or cat.
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