Dogs and cats, like people, can develop allergies to a multitude of triggers. Some allergies are seasonal, caused by pollen or other environmental items that your pet contacts only occasionally, while others, such as storage mites, are year-round problems. Still other allergens, such as a bee sting or a vaccination, can cause an acute reaction.

The type of your pet’s allergic reaction will guide their treatment plan. Chronic allergies, such as environmental or food allergies, require a comprehensive workup with your Columbia Pike Animal Hospital veterinarian to develop a treatment plan, which likely will change as their allergies evolve during their lifetime.

Acute allergic reactions may need first aid treatment at home to stabilize your pet, followed by emergency veterinary care to ensure their health and safety. To help you keep a cool head when your pet is suffering an acute reaction, our team is providing practical first aid measures for a pet’s sudden allergic reaction.

How to identify allergic reactions in pets

Allergies are caused by an overactive immune response to a perceived threat. When your pet is “attacked” by an allergen, their immune system kicks into overdrive to neutralize the invader. Depending on your pet’s immune system ferocity, their allergic reaction signs will vary greatly in intensity.

Common allergic reaction signs in pets include:

  • Excessive scratching, licking, and chewing
  • Inflammation and irritation
  • Hives
  • Swollen ears, eyes, or muzzle
  • Eye discharge

Typically, a pet’s allergies manifest as skin redness and itchiness, but they may also develop respiratory problems, such as sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes, like people. Pets with food allergies may exhibit gastrointestinal (GI) issues, such as vomiting and diarrhea, but these signs may also appear with severe reactions to other allergens.

How to provide first aid for an allergic reaction in your pet

If you suspect your pet is experiencing an allergic reaction, whether an acute reaction or a seasonal flare, you must act quickly before the problem worsens. For acute, severe reactions, your prompt first aid at home is critical to stabilize your pet and prevent the condition from escalating.

To administer first aid to your pet who is having an acute allergic reaction, follow these steps:

  • Stay calm — In scary situations, your pet turns to you for comfort. Remain calm and composed during an allergic reaction so your furry pal does not become distressed.
  • Remove the allergen — If possible, remove the allergen. Scrape a stinger away with a credit card, comb away fleas, or carefully pull away a tangle of poison ivy.
  • Move your pet to a safe place — Move your pet to a safe place away from the triggering allergen. This may mean bringing your pet indoors to escape from bees, or moving them to a different room with no cleaning chemicals or airborne pollutants.
  • Rinse your pet’s skin — If you know your pet’s allergic reaction is caused by topical exposure to an irritating substance, rinse the affected area with cool water. You may need to cleanse allergens such as poison ivy or chemicals with Dawn dish soap to strip the irritant from your pet’s skin.
  • Apply a cold compress — For mild swelling and inflammation, apply a cold, cloth-wrapped compress to the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Administer medication as directed — Before administering an antihistamine or hydrocortisone, ask your veterinarian for guidance, because not all medications are safe for use in pets.
  • Monitor your pet — Keep a close eye on your pet and note any changes in their condition. If their signs persist or worsen, seek emergency veterinary care.

When to seek veterinary care for an allergic reaction in your pet

First aid measures are useful for mild allergic reactions, but more serious reactions require veterinary care. Knowing when to seek professional treatment for a severe reaction is important and can prevent a fatality. 

Head to your nearest emergency veterinary hospital for immediate professional care if you notice:

  • A severe reaction — Severe reactions can result in breathing difficulties, excessive facial swelling, extreme lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or collapse, which all require emergency veterinary care.
  • Signs that indicate multiple body systems are affected — Severe allergic reactions that affect multiple body systems, such as the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, and severe skin conditions, also require immediate veterinary care.
  • No improvement — If your pet does not improve, despite your first aid at home, they need professional care.

Seeing your pet suffer from a severe allergic reaction, especially if they have difficulty breathing, can be scary, but knowing what to do can help. If your furry pal shows signs of an allergic reaction, don’t panic. Follow our first aid recommendations and then contact our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team for help.