How Do Vets Diagnose Allergies in Pets?

Is your furry friend constantly scratching, coughing, or suffering from recurring skin problems? These could be signs that your pet may suffer from allergies, be it a dog, a cat, or a tiny guinea pig. Do you ever wonder, “How do vets diagnose pet allergies?” Keep reading, and you’ll have all the answers by the end of this article.

Understanding Pet Allergies

Pet allergies are common and can cause discomfort and distress for our beloved furry companions. Here’s some more information about pet allergies:

Types of Pet Allergies

  • Food Allergies: Pets can develop allergic reactions to certain ingredients in their food, such as proteins (e.g., chicken, beef, or fish), grains, or additives. Food allergies may manifest as skin issues (itching, redness, or rashes), gastrointestinal problems (vomiting, diarrhea), or ear infections.
  • Environmental Allergies: Like humans, pets can be sensitive to environmental allergens like pollen, dust mites, mold spores, and grass. These allergies can cause itching, red eyes, sneezing, and nasal discharge.
  • Flea Allergies: Some pets are hypersensitive to flea saliva; even a flea bite can trigger an allergic reaction. Flea allergies can lead to intense itching and skin irritation, and affected pets may excessively scratch or groom themselves.

Symptoms of Pet Allergies

The symptoms of pet allergies can vary depending on the type of allergen and the individual pet. Common signs include:

  • Itching and scratching (especially around the face, ears, paws, and belly)
  • Red and inflamed skin
  • Excessive licking or chewing of paws
  • Sneezing, coughing, or wheezing
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Ear infections
  • Vomiting or diarrhea (in the case of food allergies)
  • Hair loss or bald patches (from excessive scratching)
  • Swollen or hives-like reactions in severe cases

How Veterinary Professionals Diagnose Allergies in Pets

Veterinary professionals use a combination of methods to diagnose allergies in pets. Diagnosing allergies can be complex as there are different types of allergies and various potential allergens. Here are the key steps that veterinary professionals take to diagnose allergies in pets:

1. Comprehensive History

  • Veterinary professionals at Monroe Veterinary Clinic begin the diagnostic process by taking a detailed medical history from the pet owner. This history includes gathering information about the pet’s age, breed, previous medical conditions, and any medications they are currently taking.
  • The veterinarian will ask specific questions about the pet’s symptoms, such as itching, skin problems, respiratory issues, gastrointestinal problems, or any other signs that may suggest an allergic reaction.
  • Inquiries will be made regarding the duration and frequency of the symptoms, any seasonal patterns, and whether the pet’s symptoms coincide with certain environmental factors or changes in their diet or living environment.

2. Physical Examination

  • A thorough physical examination of the pet is conducted on a cat or dog check up to observe and evaluate its overall health and any signs of potential allergies.
  • The veterinarian will pay close attention to the skin, coat, ears, and mucous membranes. They will look for signs of allergic reactions, such as redness, inflammation, rashes, hives, hot spots, ear infections, and itching or discomfort.
  • Skin scrapings or swabs may be taken to rule out other skin conditions, like mange or bacterial infections.
  • One of the important aspects of general pet wellness often is pet dental care. The oral cavity can also be affected by severe allergies. Neglecting oral hygiene can lead to gum disease, bad breath, and severe systemic illnesses. For more resources on pet dental care, you can visit this website

3. Elimination Diet Trial

  • The veterinarian may recommend an elimination diet trial if food allergies are suspected. This involves feeding the pet a novel protein diet (containing proteins the pet has not been exposed to before) or a hydrolyzed protein diet.
  • During the elimination diet trial, the pet is strictly fed the novel or hydrolyzed diet for 8 to 12 weeks. This is done to determine if the pet’s symptoms improve or resolve when potential allergens from their regular diet are removed.
  • Suppose the pet shows a positive response to the elimination diet by experiencing a reduction in symptoms. In that case, it suggests a food allergy and specific allergens can be gradually reintroduced to identify the culprit.

4. Allergy Testing

  • Allergy testing aims to identify the specific allergens causing the pet’s allergic reactions.
  • Two main types of allergy testing are used in veterinary medicine:
  1. Intradermal Skin Testing: This test is similar to the skin prick test used in humans. Small amounts of potential allergens are injected into the skin, and the veterinarian observes the skin’s reaction. This test helps identify environmental allergens like pollen, dust mites, mold, and certain plants. Intradermal testing is commonly performed for dogs but can also be done in cats.
  2. Serologic (Blood) Testing: Blood tests measure allergen-specific antibodies in the pet’s bloodstream. These tests detect sensitization to certain allergens, including environmental and food allergens. Serologic testing is useful for identifying food allergies and is less invasive than skin testing.

5. Symptom Improvement With Allergen Avoidance

  • During the diagnostic process, the veterinarian may recommend allergen avoidance as part of the diagnostic approach.
  • If the pet’s symptoms improve or resolve when they are kept away from specific allergens, it provides additional evidence of an allergy to those substances.
  • Allergen avoidance strategies may include removing certain plants, changing cleaning products or bedding materials, and avoiding specific foods or ingredients.

6. Response to Treatment

  • The veterinarian may prescribe allergy medications (antihistamines, steroids, etc.) to see if the pet’s symptoms improve or subside.
  • A positive response to treatment can indicate an allergic reaction and may help support the diagnosis of allergies.
  • However, it’s important to note that symptom relief with medication does not necessarily identify the specific allergen causing the allergy, so further testing may be necessary.

7. Rule Out Other Conditions

  • As allergies share symptoms with various conditions, the veterinarian will work to rule out other possible causes of the pet’s symptoms.
  • Diagnostic tests may be performed to exclude other health issues, such as infections, autoimmune diseases, or skin disorders.

8. Combined Approach

  • Allergy diagnosis in pets often requires a combined approach, integrating information from the history, physical examination, allergy testing, and response to treatment.
  • Veterinary professionals may utilize multiple diagnostic methods to reach a definitive diagnosis and identify the specific allergens affecting the pet.
  • Due to the complex nature of allergies, the diagnostic process may involve a step-by-step approach to ensure an accurate and comprehensive assessment.

Once the allergies are identified, the veterinarian will work with the pet owner to create a tailored treatment plan.

Role of Wellness Exam in Pet Allergy Detection

Wellness exams play a vital role in detecting and managing pet allergies. Here’s how:

  • Thorough physical examination to identify skin and allergy-related symptoms.
  • Inquire about allergy history and potential triggers.
  • Early detection for timely intervention and personalized treatment plans.
  • Recommendation for further allergy testing if needed.
  • Guidance on allergen avoidance and dietary adjustments.
  • Ongoing monitoring for continuous care and support.

Treatment and Management

Treatment and management of pet allergies involve a personalized approach to address the specific needs of each affected animal. After diagnosing allergies, the veterinarian will create a custom treatment plan tailored to the pet’s condition and triggers. The plan may include the following:

  • Prescription Medications: Allergy symptoms can be relieved with prescription medications such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, or immune-modulating drugs. These medications help reduce itching, inflammation, and discomfort caused by allergic reactions.
  • Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy): The vet may recommend allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy) in cases of environmental allergies. These shots contain small amounts of the identified allergens and are administered over time to desensitize the pet’s immune system, reducing its sensitivity.
  • Specialized Diets: A hypoallergenic or novel protein diet may be prescribed for pets with food allergies. These diets contain ingredients that the pet has not been exposed to before and can help identify and avoid triggering food allergens.
  • Environmental Management: Minimizing exposure to environmental allergens is essential. This may involve keeping the living space clean, using air purifiers, and avoiding known triggers like specific plants or allergenic materials.
  • Flea Prevention: Strict flea prevention measures are crucial if the pet has flea allergies. Regular use of flea preventatives can help prevent flea infestations and reduce the risk of allergic reactions.
  • Long-Term Care: It’s essential to understand that while allergies can be managed, some pets may require ongoing treatment. Regular follow-up visits with the veterinarian are necessary to monitor the pet’s response to treatment and make adjustments as needed.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Sometimes, lifestyle changes may be necessary to improve the pet’s comfort and reduce exposure to allergens. For example, avoiding outdoor activities during high pollen seasons or using allergen-proof bedding for pets with dust mite allergies.

Implementing a comprehensive treatment plan and managing the pet’s allergies effectively aims to reduce symptoms, improve the pet’s quality of life, and minimize the impact of allergies on their health.


Diagnosing allergies in pets involves a meticulous process with different steps, from initial consultation to laboratory testing. While the process can be bothersome, it’s essential for your pet’s well-being. As a pet owner, providing your pets with routine check-ups, proper dental care, and being observant of signs of allergies can go a long way in helping them lead happier and healthier lives.