Special Report: What every pet owner should know about allergies


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) -- Spring is right around the corner, which means allergy season is fast approaching. The watery eyes and itchy nose are not fun for anyone. However, it's not just humans who are affected -- pets can have allergies, too.

Allergies in humans and pets are often caused by similar things, like food and what’s in the air, but the symptoms look different in our four-legged friends. Both veterinarians and pet owners say it's frustrating to diagnose and treat animal allergies.

For Shaun Brantley, pets are part of the family.

“His name is Hooch. He’s a Dogue de Bordeaux,” said Brantley.

Hooch is one of five animals in the house and needs a bit of extra care. Brantley said, “Believe it or not, he gets around five to six pills a day during the springtime.”

Brantley works at the Norfolk SPCA and used to work for a pet dermatologist. Two years ago, he thought something was "off" with Hooch.

“I noticed him shaking his head a lot, his face was turning kind of red around the eyes,” Brantley said. “His feet were getting kind of red and irritant, ears were all inflamed.”

He called a vet who told him Hooch has seasonal allergies.

“It’s a chronic, incurable disease so we can’t cure it, but we can definitely maintain it so the pets are comfortable and everyone is happy,” said Dr. Marlene Pariser, who is a pet dermatologist with Blue Pearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital.

Pariser treats animals with flea allergies, food allergies, and most commonly, seasonal allergies.

“So seasonal allergies is caused by their immune system, it's their own bodies' response,” Pariser said.

They're similar to human allergies -- even caused by the same things -- but the symptoms are different.

She said, “So the most common symptom I see is increased itching, paw licking, just increased scratching in general. They can also sometimes have recurrent skin and ear infections, as well.”

Pariser says treating allergies can be tough: it's trial and error.

“There are many options out there, from diet changes, to fish oils, to antihistamines, to allergy-specific immuno-therapy, which is allergy serums and allergy injections,” Pariser said.

Brantley started with diet changes for Hooch. When that didn’t work, his vet suggested Zyrtec. After about two weeks on a generic version of the drug, Brantley said, “the head-shaking started subsiding, the puffiness of his eyes started subsiding.”

It’s about $30 for a bottle of pills that lasts a year and a half.

“I never expected my pet to have something like this,” Brantley said.

It’s a small price to pay for his pet’s peace of mind.

“I love him to death,” said Brantley.

Cats can have seasonal allergies as well, but the symptoms are a little bit different.

Pariser said, “You can see increased licking, they can developing things called miliary dermatitis, which is pinpoint lesions on their head and all over their body.”

She sees more dogs than cats with seasonal allergies.

Pariser says anyone who thinks their pet may have allergies should speak with a vet before changing any habits.

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