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Food Allergies vs. Seasonal Allergies in Pets: What's the Difference?

Food Allergies vs. Seasonal Allergies in Pets: What's the Difference?

Allergies are common in pets. In fact, they are one of the top reasons that pet owners take their dog or cat to the veterinarian. Unfortunately, allergies can cause a wide range of symptoms that often mimic other skin conditions and medical issues. 

Plus, there are various types of allergies in dogs and cats, including skin allergies, food allergies, and seasonal/environmental allergies. The symptoms of these different types of allergies can be quite similar, which can make differentiating between the various types of allergies very difficult. 

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between food allergies and seasonal allergies in pets! 

Allergies in Dogs & Cats 

Similar to people, allergies in pets occur when the immune system is hypersensitive to a particular substance. This triggers an exaggerated immune response to a normally harmless substance, such as pollens, mold, dander, or certain foods. 

Allergies in pets tend to cause skin problems, including itchy and irritated skin. This intense itching can cause pets to obsessively scratch, chew, or lick their itchy spots, which can introduce bacteria or yeast to the irritated skin. This can lead to secondary infections and hot spots on pets

Other common symptoms of allergies in pets include ear infections, sneezing, watery eyes, hair loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

Seasonal/Environmental Allergies 

Environmental allergies are often caused by substances in your pet’s environment, such as your home or yard. Common triggers include dust mites, pollens, molds, plant or animal fibers, and cleaning products. These allergens are either inhaled or absorbed through the skin and can result in atopic dermatitis. 

Environmental allergies are usually seasonal, so you may notice that your pet shows allergy symptoms during a particular time of year. Common symptoms of environmental/seasonal allergies in pets include itchy skin, face rubbing, and licking of the paws and other areas. Other symptoms can include hair loss, red skin, and recurrent skin or ear infections. Hair loss and red skin are often seen on the pet’s face, ears, paws, lower legs, belly, and armpits. 

Food Allergies

Food allergies are sometimes referred to as adverse food reactions. According to VCA Hospitals, the most common food allergy in pets is an allergy to a protein source in the diet, such as chicken or beef. However, pets can also be allergic to grains and other ingredients, substances, and additives. 

Pets can be allergic to any food ingredient but common ones are dairy, wheat, beef, soy, lamb, chicken, corn, and fish. It’s important to note that pets can develop a food allergy at any point during their life, even if they have eaten that particular ingredient or pet food with no issues in the past. 

The symptoms of food allergies in dogs and cats are often similar to the symptoms of seasonal allergies. In addition to intense itching, food allergies can also cause gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or an increase in bowel movements. 

Diagnosing Allergies: Allergy Testing for Pets 

Diagnosing allergies can be difficult and often involves a long process of trial and error. Because it is very difficult to differentiate between food and environmental allergies, we suggest taking your pet to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. 

After ruling out other medical issues, your veterinarian may recommend allergy testing for your pet to help determine what is triggering your cat’s or dog’s allergies. Allergy testing, which can consist of blood testing or intradermal skin testing, is only accurate for seasonal/environmental allergies. 

Skin testing is more accurate than blood testing and is often performed by a board-certified veterinary dermatologist. Because skin testing can be uncomfortable, mild sedation is required. This type of testing involves injecting very small amounts of allergens under your pet’s skin and then measuring the allergic reactions to each allergen. 

Determining a food allergy in pets and pinpointing the ingredient can be a long process as food elimination trials are often necessary. If you’re able to find out what ingredient is bothering your pet, you’ll need to cut the problem ingredient out of your pet’s diet. 

Treating Your Pet’s Allergies

Treating food allergies often involves feeding your pet a hypoallergenic diet for 8 to 12 weeks. Your veterinarian can help you choose the proper diet for your pet’s unique situation. Additionally, your vet may recommend treating your pet’s symptoms while you wait to see if the diet change is successful. 

If you choose to have allergy testing done, and you’re able to pinpoint the allergen, treatment can involve avoiding the allergen or getting an allergy vaccine. It’s often difficult to completely avoid the allergen, so your vet may recommend allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy. According to PetMD, immunotherapy is 60 to 70% effective, with the goal being to make the immune system less reactive to the allergen. 

Treating your pet’s symptoms is also important, as it can take months before your pet starts showing improvement. If your pet has environmental allergies, regular bathing with therapeutic shampoos and anti-inflammatory drugs may help. 

If you choose not to have allergy testing done, then treatment involves treating your pet’s symptoms. Frequent bathing, fatty acids, steroids, antihistamines, and other anti-allergy medications may help reduce or eliminate symptoms. 

Patience is key when it comes to allergies in pets. Determining what substance your cat or dog is allergic to and resolving your pet’s symptoms can be a long and frustrating process. Monitoring your pet’s symptoms and working alongside your vet are your best options for success! 


The materials and information provided on this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your veterinarian or other pet healthcare professional. Consult your own veterinarian if you have medical questions concerning diagnosis, treatment, therapy, or medical attention

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