It seems that with the warmer season behind us, we would be experiencing less skin allergies in our pets. This hasn't proven to be the case this year.

There are many things that owners can do before bringing their pet to the veterinarian. There are three main causes of allergies in pets ... fleas, foods and environment.

  • Fleas are back with a vengeance this year.

    The older topical flea and tick preventatives in use for the last 10 to 15 years aren't working as well on pets. While they are killing ticks in most cases, the fleas seemed to have developed a resistance.

    There are newer flea and tick control products that are very effective. The other benefit is that they are given orally so they cannot be bathed off.

    Many do require a prescription from a veterinarian. Some don't control ticks well so you may have to use more than one product if your pet lives in or travels to an area with a high concentration of ticks.

  • Food allergies exist in both dogs and cats. In recent years, grains have gotten a bad name and pet foods that are "grain-free" have gained popularity.

    Grains themselves are not necessarily responsible for food allergies. Your dog or cat can be allergic to any protein or carbohydrate in their food.

    These can include dairy, beef, chicken, wheat, corn, egg, lamb, turkey, oats, etc.

    To rule out a food allergy, your pet needs to eat a food with one protein and one carbohydrate source for about 12 weeks. The pet cannot have eaten foods with these food sources previously.

    During the feeding trial, they cannot eat any other foods, including vitamins, treats, chew sticks, or human foods.

    Currently diets made from rabbit, venison, fish, or kangaroo mixed with potatoes are popular.

    They should be purchased from your veterinarian as the over-the-counter foods can be contaminated with other foods during processing.

  • Environmental allergies are the most difficult to treat. Pets can be allergic to pollens from trees, weeds and grasses, molds, and dust or storage mites.

    Pets with these allergies usually start out with seasonal itchiness but after a year or two, they scratch year round.

    The best way to control allergies at home is with frequent bathing.

    Shampoos made with colloidal oatmeal and pramoxine HCl should be used weekly.

    Dogs should be kept in the shower for 15 minutes while the shampoo soaks and then rinsed well.

    Antihistamines are available over the counter and work in about 15 percent of patients. Each should be tried for two weeks to determine its effectiveness before switching to another one.

    Your veterinarian can give you dosages of different antihistamines to try based on your pet's weight.

    If your pet still scratches after bathing and good flea control, or if there is redness or hair loss, visit your vet for more testing and treatments.

    Reach Jill Christofferson at