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How to safeguard your pets from indoor allergies during winter

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Harsh winter weather outside means more time spent inside for you and your pets.

For some pets, allergens such as dust mites and mold will become a greater issue in the winter as home heaters are turned up and pets venture outside less.

Allergies in pets are not as straightforward as they seem, making them difficult to diagnose and treat, according to Dr. Kirk Breuninger, a veterinary research associate on the Banfield Applied Research and Knowledge team in Vancouver, Washington.

“It’s something that doesn’t get as much credit for how complex it actually is because there’s so many factors that play into allergies in our pets,” Breuninger said.

Dog pet allergy

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Flea allergy dermatitis, food allergies and environmental allergies are the main types of allergies in pets. Adding to the complexity, pets with one type of allergy are predisposed to being affected by other types of allergies.

“It kind of sets the stage for their immune system because it’s so ramped up over whatever that other allergen is that you can now begin having responses to other types of allergies,” Breuninger said.

About 40 to 60 percent of pets that have a primary food allergy also suffer from flea allergy dermatitis or environmental allergies, according to Breuninger.

Environmental allergies are “the most frustrating of all because the sky is the limit as far as what can be the underlying cause for that allergen,” Breuninger said.

There are two ways to treat environmental allergies. First, owners can do their best to eliminate the allergen from the pet’s daily life. Secondly, there are ways that vets can work to prevent the immune response from occurring, which usually requires lifelong management of the pet.

“Part of that management includes being on a flea preventative year round because usually those pets, they get exposed to even a single flea bite [and] it can really set off an entire allergic response for them that we need to manage then,” Breuninger said.

Fleas live through the winter, so Breuninger warns pet owners not to take their pet off flea prevention treatments just because the temperature drops.

Cat pet allergy

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The most common sign of allergies in pets is itchiness, which can be specific to ears and paws or spread all over their body. Pets will lick, scratch and chew at any areas that are itchy.

Other symptoms of environmental allergies in pets include red and runny eyes, sneezing, a clear nasal discharge and chronic ear infections.

Pets can also experience contact allergies to different materials used in homes during the winter.

“I once treated a dog who was allergic to wool, he got worse every time his owner got her wool blankets out during the winter,” said Dr. Erin Wilson, the medical director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Adoption Center in New York City.

There are medical treatments for allergies in pets. While it is safe for pets take over the counter human allergy medications, antihistamines like Benadryl are rarely effective, according to Wilson. The most effective medications for pets are those that a veterinarian prescribes.

A vaccine can be created so that over time pet's immune systems can actually fight off or decrease response to the specific allergens, according to Breuninger.

There are also topical products that owners can use to alleviate some of the itchiness for pets. Wilson recommends bathing your pet with a gentle oatmeal shampoo.

Keeping the home clean, especially heaters or air filters, can cut down on dust and other allergens that make breathing air cleaner for you and your pets.

Breuninger stresses that allergies in pets are a difficult issue, so the best thing pet owners can do if they suspect their pet is suffering is to take their pet to the veterinarian so they can identify and treat the core issue.

Pet owners should look between the toes for redness or inflammation as that is a commonly affected area. Breuninger said that in the winter pet owners should be looking out for redness, inflammation, fur loss and excessive biting or licking in a particular area as signs of allergies.

“Those are really signs that you should partner with your veterinarian to figure out what’s going on and to treat that appropriately,” Breuninger said.


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