June 3, 2010 -- When it's allergy season for pet owners, it's also allergy season for pets.
They sneeze like we do, but for pets, the real problem is itching. Allergies often cause skin irritation which can lead to bigger problems, such as rashes, raw ears, weepy sores and more, according to veterinarian Marty Becker. Pet insurance companies reimburse owners $16.6 million a year for allergy care alone.
Pet insurance companies reimburse owners $16.6 million a year for allergy care alone.
Luckily, Becker dropped by "Good Morning America" to share the best ways to identify and deal with pet allergies.
How to Detect Pet Allergies
According to Becker, the most common cause of allergies in dogs and cats is from flea bites that leave allergens behind in the bite -- but pets also are allergic to more common allergens like seasonal pollens, house dust, molds and animal dander. Pets can even be allergic to humans.
When they're allergic, pets will show some symptoms like humans -- such as sneezing -- but their skin is also affected, Becker said.
"You'll notice your pet scratching, licking their skin, rubbing their faces, causing a lot of collateral damage," Becker said.
Any wounds the pets open up can get infected, leading to greater health issues.
What Can You Do to Help Your Pet?
According to Becker, there are several things owners can do to help their pets fight allergies.
Keep Their Coat Clean Becker compared pet coats to "furry dust mops" because they're so good at attracting pollen, spores and other allergens -- whether they're indoor or outdoor pets. Use an electrostatically charged sheet, such as a Swiffer, to clean the wood and tile floors in your home can keep the dust at bay.
In addition, Becker said to bathe your pets often with either over-the-counter or prescription shampoos that are gentle to their skin.
Becker said that because cats can be harder to bathe, some spray-on products or wipes can be used for "dry baths."
Vet Prescribed Medications According to Becker, there are two kinds of medications vets prescribe to treat the skin's allergic reactions to allergens. The first kind boosts your pet's tolerance to whatever they're allergic to.
Becker discussed one drug, Respit, that comes in eight different formulas targeting the most common allergens in the eight regions of the country. Click here to learn more about Respit from VetRespit.com.
The other kind of treatment targets allergies at the cellular level. The drug Atopica fights inflammation and itching and has fewer side effects than other drugs, Becker said. Click here to learn more about Atopica from Atopica.com.
Special Diets to Fight Allergies Some pets can be helped by modifying their diets, Becker said.
"Let's say your pet has a food allergy," Becker said. "Most food allergens are proteins, so you can switch your pet to food that contains protein it's not allergic to, or you could feed it a hydrolyzed protein diet."
In a hydrolyzed protein pet food, the protein source is broken down into tiny molecules so as not to provoke an immune system.
If your pet has seasonal allergies, foods with high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids can be soothing for skin problems caused by allergies, Becker said.
Becker said to talk to your vet about what's best for your little pal.