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Dogs and cats are just as prone to allergies as you or I. Food allergies and sensitivities, ticks and mites and even their own food supply can cause unnecessary suffering for your pet.

FOOD ALLERGIES
Symptoms:
Vomiting shortly after eating
Dry heaves after eating
Diarrhea
Itching

CHEAPER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER
Not all pet food is created equal. Unfortunately, there are some pet foods with more "filler" than nutrients. Large and medium breed dogs are especially susceptible to food allergies from the "fillers" used in inferior dog foods. If your dog suffers intense itching or daily diarrhea, he may be allergic to his own food supply. Many dogs don't tolerate cornmeal well, the main ingredient in many cheaper foods. Try switching your dog to a meal that is more hearty or natural, and watch for signs of improvement.

CATS AND MILK
Cats and milk seem to go hand in hand, but that's not always the case. Many cats (and dogs) are lactose intolerant and simply cannot the digest the enzymes in dairy products. If your cat (or dog) suffers diarrhea frequently, consider laying off the dairy.

CHECK THE TREATS
If you've switched dog (or cat) food and your pet is still scratching or ill, read the ingredient label on their treat box. Much like cheaper brands of pet foods, many treats are made of nothing but fillers. Try making homemade treats, instead, and see if it makes a difference.

ELIMINATION DIET
If your pet continues to suffer illness, eliminate all normal feeding for seven days. In place of treats and prepared dog and cat foods, feed your pet home cooked hypoallergenic foods like rice, lamb and chicken. Most cats don't like rice, but you can substitute baby food in its place. Prepared lamb baby food works well for dogs, as well.

HIVES
Red, raised welts on the skin of your pet indicate hives. Hives can be a one time experience or a life threatening allergic reaction. The first step you should make when dealing with hives is to ease your pet's pain. After that, you can try to figure out how your animal ended up in this condition.

TREATMENT FOR HIVES

ANTIHISTAMINES: Over the counter medications for humans (like Benadryl) will help to block the effects of histamine, the body chemical that is causing your pet to suffer. Give three milligrams per pound, or contact your veterinarian for dosage advice.

OINTMENTS: Topical medications, such as calamine and hydrocortisone cream, can help to relieve itching. Note though, that many pets lick the medication off paw and leg areas. Cover, if necessary.

NO SCRATCHING: While your pet is likely suffering, discourage any scratching, as it will only make the situation worse. For dogs that refuse to stop scratching, a cool soothing bath is sometimes helpful.

Once the hives have disappeared, it's important to find their cause. Has your pet taken any new medication recently? If so, contact your veterinarian for advice. Was your pet exposed to poison ivy or any other wild plants? Limit their exposure, and watch to make sure the hives do not return. Was your animal bit by a bee, possibly? Check for swelling or areas that your pet is paying special attention to and monitor. If you're unable to find the cause of hives, contact your veterinarian, who can perform a simple, inexpensive allergy test.


BREATHING PROBLEMS
Cats are especially prone to asthma attacks. If your cat doesn't normally suffer asthma, however, and you note breathing difficulty, contact your veterinarian. Severe allergic reactions can cause life threatening anaphylaxis reactions.


SKIN IRRITATION
Dogs and cats are prone to small breakouts, acne, dandruff, dry skin irritation and rash. If your animal has more skin irritation than normal, it may be time to schedule an appointment with his/her veterinarian. Though skin irritations are not life threatening, they can cause unneeded stress in your pet and lead to infection.

RASH
Most rashes in pets are caused by plants, food allergies, medication and insect bites. Rashes can be treated with hydrocortisone, and should disappear within a few hours of application.

DANDRUFF
Dogs are especially prone to dry skin and dandruff. Lack of proper care, bathing too frequently and allergy can all cause dry, itchy skin on your dog. Your dog should be bathed no more than once a month or it loses its natural skin oils, which will lead to dandruff and irritated skin. Exposure to untreated lake water can also cause dandruff, dry skin and rash. If the skin irritation begins after bathing, consider purchasing a hypoallergenic shampoo. Special "dry conditioners" can be added to your dog's coat in between bath times.

ACNE
Dogs and cats are known to get acne at all stages of their life. Most acne is caused by irritation and allergy. Dog's frequently have acne spots under their chin. Hydrocortisone will help to treat the irritation, and can be applied up to three times daily.


ACTIVE DOGS
Active dogs are at more of a risk than indoor dogs, due to simple exposure. During the spring, summer and fall months, be sure to watch your busy dog's activities, and note any plants, waterbeds or insects he may encounter. Knowing what's causing your animal's suffering is the key to treating it.

INDOOR DOGS
Indoor dogs and cats have risks, too. Keep toxic plants out of harm's way and all medications locked up.