The immune system is a fantastic thing — it keeps the body safe from all kinds of outside invaders. Unfortunately, sometimes the immune system can also mislabel certain benign foreign substances, like pollens or foods, leading the body to mount a full attack on something that wouldn’t have been an issue at all. If your dog has been sneezing more recently, it’s a natural part of pet parenting to want to figure out why.
For example, can dogs be allergic to cats? Let’s find out! While the only way to know for sure is to visit a veterinary allergist, we’re here to discuss if that’s possible and what may trigger that type of allergic reaction in your dog.
While we don’t know precisely why the body decides to label a foreign substance as an invader, triggering it to mount an overreaction to it, we do know what happens on a physiological level when it does — although it is a complex process.
As the foreign substance enters the body — breathing it in, eating it, or otherwise coming into contact with it — it gets “tagged” as dangerous. In response, the immune system produces a protein called immunoglobulin E (IgE) that attaches to that substance, labeling it officially as an allergen and creating antigens to identify that allergen more easily.
Once the allergen has been tagged, the next step is that mast cells in the body secrete chemicals like histamine. These chemicals are designed to push the allergen out of the body as quickly as possible — and cause the symptoms your dog experiences when they experience an allergic reaction.
Signs and Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs
Histamine-releasing mast cells are located throughout the body’s tissues, so the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction that your dog experiences will depend on which are activated. For example, an allergic reaction triggered by a respiratory allergen like pollen will produce different symptoms than a food allergy.
Common signs and symptoms you may see with an allergic reaction include:
- Frequent licking
- Inflamed skin
- Itching (which can be localized or occur all over the body)
- Watery eyes
Why So Much Itching?
Of the above symptoms, itching is the most likely to occur with an allergic reaction. But why do our dogs get so itchy? Research has shown that much of this comes down to changes in the composition of the skin barrier in dogs, which allow it to be more easily compromised by environmental allergens.
These allergens can then reach deeper into the skin, closer to the mast cells that trigger a reaction. That also means that areas of the skin less protected by fur — the paws, ears, stomach, and around the eyes — are more likely to be affected.
Can Dogs Have a More Severe Reaction to Allergens?
Although unusual, it is also possible for dogs to develop an anaphylactic reaction to an allergic trigger. These reactions are immediate, often occurring within seconds to minutes of exposure.
Hives, swelling of the face, and excessive drooling are some of the trademark symptoms associated with an anaphylactic reaction and should always be taken seriously. These reactions can also cause your dog to have difficulty breathing and can even be fatal if not treated quickly.
Can Dogs Be Allergic to Cats?
But let’s talk about why you’re here — can dogs be allergic to cats?
The answer is yes; dogs can be allergic to anything, including cats. Dogs can also be allergic to other dogs!
Most cat allergies aren’t to the cat itself but to its dander — skin flakes similar to dandruff that are shed into the environment. Your dog can come into contact with dander in multiple ways; by breathing it in, touching it, or even accidentally eating it.
If you suspect your dog is allergic to a cat in your household, the only way to confirm it is by seeing a veterinarian for allergy testing. There are various ways to test for allergies, but the most common are intradermal (where allergens are injected just under the skin) or by testing the blood for antigens. Some veterinarians prefer to combine both approaches to be as thorough as possible.
What Can Be Done For a Dog Who Is Allergic to Cats?
If your dog has been diagnosed with a cat dander allergy, the next step is managing it. There are multiple ways of doing this, and your veterinarian will help you decide the best course of action for your dog.
Part of that action plan involves keeping your house as free of cat dander as possible. We would never suggest you get rid of your cat, but you may need to keep them separate or create cat-free areas in your home.
Vacuuming with a HEPA filter, using air purifiers to remove dander from the air, and frequently washing their pet beds are all helpful tips. If your cat tolerates it, bathing them can also reduce the amount of dander they produce.
There are also different medications and treatments that can help manage your dog’s symptoms.
Frequently bathing your dog with a hypoallergenic shampoo can help soothe their itchy and inflamed skin. Not only that, but these baths can help remove excess dander from their coat, decreasing the number of allergens that can reach the skin and trigger a reaction.
There are both over-the-counter and prescription options, so talk to your veterinarian about which is best for your dog’s situation.
ElleVet Sciences Cannabidiol (CBD) and CBDA have been proven effective at helping to soothe itching in dogs. Ellevet CBD is scientifically backed, safe, and has the potential for only minimal side effects.
One of the most effective ways to manage an allergy is allergen immunotherapy (AIT), or “allergy shots.” While allergy shots can be expensive and take up to a year to produce results, those results are often “permanent” — the closest to a cure possible.
When your dog undergoes AIT, they are injected with the allergen they are susceptible to. The amount of allergen in each injection starts incredibly small and increases until your dog reaches their therapeutic level.
The goal is to desensitize their immune system to the presence of the allergen, decreasing the severity of their reaction to it. If you have the money and the patience, pursuing AIT can be extraordinarily beneficial for your dog.
What Happens if Your Dog Doesn’t Get Treated for Their Cat Dander Allergy?
If your dog seems to be itching more than usual or experiencing other allergy symptoms, don’t ignore it. Untreated allergies may just annoy your dog, or they can become dangerous and impact their overall health.
Hot spots are one of the most obvious side effects of untreated allergies in dogs. These red, inflamed, often oozing areas of the skin happen due to frequent licking in a specific area — like the legs or hips.
Dogs with thicker coats, such as golden retrievers, German shepherds, and labrador retrievers, are even more at risk. Hot spots are uncomfortable, often painful, and can lead to a more significant skin infection.
Open areas of the skin (like hot spots) are more vulnerable to infection, especially by bacteria or yeast. Skin infections can impact your dog’s entire immune system, making them develop a fever, feel fatigued, or even put them at risk for more serious, potentially fatal complications.
These infections need to be treated by a veterinarian with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. If you notice your dog is feeling under the weather and they have open sores, schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
Dogs with frequent allergy-related itching are also susceptible to developing ear hematomas — a collection of blood within the pinna (the outer part of the ear). Ear hematomas form when the delicate blood vessels in the ear break in response to itching or shaking.
These hematomas will often need to be drained or even surgically removed, as they can rupture open on their own and cause a lot of damage (both to your dog and your home).
Can dogs be allergic to cats? Unfortunately, yes. However, a cat dander allergy doesn’t always mean you have to rehome your cat — there are plenty of ways to manage allergy symptoms and return your pet to their highest quality of life.
Our pets are our family members, and finding ways to keep them happy and healthy is one of our important roles as pet parents. ElleVet is here to help you do just that — please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions!