How old is your pet in human years?

Your pet can’t seem to stop scratching?

Finally! The snow has melted and life is all around. Trees are spreading their leaves, and the perfume of spring is definitely in the air! Also in the air? Billions and billions of barely visible, fine dust particles—in other words, pollen, the scourge of allergy sufferers everywhere.

But if you were thinking that only humans suffer from allergies, unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

Pets, especially dogs, can suffer from allergies as well. In fact, 10% of dogs are afflicted. Some allergies are seasonal, while others are present throughout the year. What are the symptoms? What you’ll notice is that your dog will seem to constantly be scratching. Because of course, the more they scratch… the more they scratch! “In humans, allergies manifest in watery eyes and a runny nose, but in dogs, the main symptoms are scratching, excessive licking and biting parts of their body. We see this in cats as well, but it isn’t as common as it is with dogs,” says Dr. Patrice Duchesne, veterinarian and owner at Clinique de médecin vétérinaire de St-Louis, in Montréal.

Many clients come to see Dr. Duchesne thinking that their pet has fleas because of all the scratching. But is it the case? Dr. Duchesne specifies, “Once we examine the animal, we can see right away if fleas are the cause. We can also eliminate possible bacterial infections and folliculitis. The dog may also have parasites, such as mites. When these tests eliminate bacterial and parasitic infections, we turn to allergies. In the month of August, we usually suspect a seasonal allergy. However, once we’re in January, it might not be a seasonal allergy because there’s virtually no pollen in the air during winter. So then we’re talking about a yearlong allergy.

Allergies that occur throughout the year can be related to food, but your dog or cat might also be allergic to dust or dust mites.

Seasonal or yearlong?

According to Dr. Duchesne, if your pet is scratching from July to October, there is a good chance that’s a pollen allergy. We then relieve your pet’s symptoms with the appropriate medication and a diet tailored to strengthen the skin barrier. “After the first frost and the end of the medication, if your pet has stopped scratching, we usually conclude that it was, in fact, a seasonal allergy. In this case, the allergy can keep coming back each year, for the rest of your pet’s life.”

However, if your pet continues to scratch into the winter, what could they be allergic to? To identify the allergy, your vet will take things in two stages. First, they will begin by testing for food allergies with a strict, hypoallergenic diet; made from protein that your pet has never ingested before. For example, you might prepare a meal of duck and potatoes… or lamb and rice. There is even food on the market that is based on cricket flour! This test diet lasts about 6 to 10 weeks.

At the end of this period, if your pet still continues to scratch, your vet will probably recommend a veterinary dermatologist who will conduct more extensive skin allergy tests that could eventually lead to desensitization therapy, which could last several months. However, before going any further, your vet might also simply decide to proceed with an antipruritic (anti-itch) treatment that could effectively relieve the itching that has been plaguing your beloved pet.