Do allergies plague you every year? If you experience sneezing, a runny nose, and watery, itchy eyes each spring during the height of the growing season, you know all about allergies. Pets also have allergies, although they appear differently, and can cause a host of skin issues. And, asthma can be triggered by springtime pollen, although these two conditions can linger in your pet throughout the year. To shed light on these two health issues, May has been designated as Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. You may be familiar with them in people, but they can be tough to spot in pets without knowing the signs. Here, we answer your questions about asthma and allergies in pets.

Question: Are asthma and allergies in pets similar?

Answer: Both asthma and allergies are triggered by an environmental substance, such as pollen, dust, mold, cigarette smoke, perfume, and other common allergens. When your pet is exposed to such a substance, their immune system can kick into hyperdrive, overreacting, and causing an allergic reaction or asthma attack. Inflammation abounds, in the airway with asthma, or through the skin with allergies, but the inflammatory response is the main reason for pets’ discomfort.

Q: What are asthma signs in pets?

A: Cats are much more susceptible to asthma than dogs, and small canine breeds are more commonly affected than large breeds. However, asthma signs appear similar across these two species, and may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing or hacking
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic coughing
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy

Open-mouth breathing in cats is a classic asthma sign, since cats rarely behave this way any other time, except under severe stress. In dogs, an asthma attack looks different from normal panting, and is unlikely to be confused with panting after exercise or on a hot day.

In some cases, pet owners assume their cat is coughing up a hairball, when they’re actually having an asthma attack. The cat will squat with hunched shoulders and an extended neck, and may cough or breathe rapidly. This behavior can look similar to a hairball situation, but can indicate your cat has asthma.

Q: What are allergy signs in pets?

A: Pets generally display allergies through their skin, rather than upper respiratory issues, like sneezing and watery eyes. Instead, you may notice the following allergy signs in your pet:

  • Excessive scratching, licking, and chewing
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Hot spots
    • Skin infections
  • Ear infections
  • Anal gland issues
  • Paw chewing
  • Face rubbing

Occasionally, an allergic pet may sneeze or their eyes may run, but skin issues are more common. If your pet has a food allergy, you may also notice vomiting and diarrhea. 

Q: What are the most common pet allergens?

A: Allergy and asthma triggers for pets are typically substances they’ve been exposed to numerous times. Some of the most common allergens include:

  • Pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Dust mites
  • Fleas
  • Cleaning chemicals
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Fragrances
  • Cigarette, fireplace, or candle smoke
  • Some foods (e.g., chicken, lamb, beef, eggs, dairy products, fish)

However, any environmental substance, including the dander from a canine or feline housemate, can trigger a pet.

Q: How is my pet diagnosed with asthma or allergies?

A: Your pet’s health history is key for diagnosing asthma or allergies. Keep a careful record of your pet’s signs, including the severity and time of year they occur. Note any potential triggers that may have caused a flare. During your pet’s appointment with Dr. Wes, they’ll undergo a series of diagnostic tests designed to rule out other conditions. Tests may include blood work, allergy testing, parasite tests, chest X-rays, or a bronchoscopy. Some of these tests, such as intradermal allergy testing and bronchoscopy, are more extensive, and may require a specialist.

Q: How can I manage my pet’s asthma or allergies?

A: Asthma and allergies are incurable pet conditions that require regular, lifelong management. However, proper treatment and keeping in touch with our WesVet Animal Hospital team about your pet’s comfort level can help your pet live a long and happy life. Treatment focuses primarily on reducing allergen exposure, and then managing any signs. Medications designed to reduce inflammation are a cornerstone of your pet’s treatment plan, and more therapies are added based on signs. Bronchodilators may be helpful for pets with asthma, while medicated shampoos, omega-3 fatty acids, skin health supplements, and prescription diets may be recommended for pets with allergies. Since these are lifelong conditions, your pet’s treatment plan will likely change over the years to ensure its effectiveness.

Although May is the perfect time to highlight asthma and allergy awareness in pets, your furry pal can suffer from these conditions year-round, and not only during certain seasons. If your pet has itchy skin or difficulty breathing, find them relief by contacting our WesVet Animal Hospital team for an appointment.