If you’re a dog owner, you’re probably aware that canine companions, like humans, can be allergic to different types of food or things in the environment, such as grass or pollen. But what about being allergic to other animals, like cats? Can dogs be allergic to cats? The answer is yes.
Veterinarian Dr. Robert Trimble, co-founder of the San Francisco-based service Fuzzy Pet Health, says, “I have heard of a dog being allergic to a cat . . . and a cat to a dog.”
An Itch That Won’t Stop
The main sign that your dog is allergic to something is going to be itching. Trimble explains that while human allergies tend to manifest in our eyes, nasal cavity, and sometimes ears, dogs with allergies have a strange skin defect that creates itchy skin. “Although dogs with environmental allergies (called atopic dermatitis) can have similar eye, nose, and respiratory signs as their human counterparts, allergy-suffering pets are also born with an abnormal skin barrier that allows environmental allergens, such as molds, pollen, dust, dander, and many other allergens, to absorb through the outer-skin layer,” he says.
“Because of the skin defect, the allergens absorb even deeper into the skin layers, where the skin’s immune system lives. At this point, the skin’s immune cells do what immune cells do, which is to create an immune response to fight these foreign material foes. Part of that response is histamine release, which causes itchiness.”
Areas with less fur — paws, eyes, mouth, and abdomen — will be itchier because the skin is more exposed to the allergen. Trimble adds that an allergic reaction is going to pretty much look the same no matter what your dog is allergic to. For this reason, getting your dog tested for allergies is the only way to know for sure what is causing the reaction.
Treatment for Dogs That Are Allergic to Cats
If you find out that your dog is allergic to cats, you’ll want to know how to manage the reactions. “Once your dog has been tested, he can be treated with individual immunotherapy,” says Trimble. “Immunotherapy involves daily exposure to the specific allergens the dog is sensitive to, either by daily injection or by a daily oral spray/oral drops. The goal of this therapy is to decrease the severity of itch and inflammation and decrease the need for other itch-preventing medications. This individually tailored treatment is the only method the veterinary community has found that helps to change the abnormal response the body has to allergens. Although not a perfect treatment — your dog will likely still be itchy, just less so — when it comes to itchiness, improvement to any degree will be welcomed by your dog.”
Keeping your house clean by vacuuming more often to remove cat dander from the floor and having an air purifier to remove any dander in the air can also help your dog.
You should never ignore a dog that seems to itch all the time. “If your dog is scratching himself constantly — waking up from sleep to scratch, stopping play behavior to scratch, stopping in the middle of a meal to scratch — that is significant,” Trimble says. “If you allow your itchy dog to scratch for an extended period of time, he can develop skin infections with bacteria or yeast; he can develop hot spots, ear infections, an ear hematoma; and he can lose fur. Imagine what it is like to always be itchy. The earlier in your dog’s life this problem is addressed, the better chance everyone, dog and owner alike, has for an improved quality of life.”