Last night, while relaxing in bed, my pit bull Cooper randomly broke out in hives. We successfully managed the allergic reaction with Benadryl and prednisone, but despite lots of brainstorming, we have not been able to identify the allergen that triggered the reaction! (He was in our presence all day and he was not exposed to anything unusual.) Unfortunately, this is a very common scenario and it’s one reason why allergies are so difficult to diagnose.
Hives are red bumps of varying sizes; some are small (the size of a pencil eraser or smaller), whereas others are larger — the size of a quarter or bigger. They can be round in shape or irregular.
If your pet gets hives, it’s a sign that he/she is experiencing an allergic reaction. And while hives, in and of themselves, are not dangerous, they can be associated with a potentially deadly allergic reaction, which can lead to anaphylactic shock and ultimately, death. So if you observe hives in your dog, a prompt visit to the veterinary clinic is in order.
Hives can arise on any part of an animal’s body. The most common locations are the feet and face.
What causes a pet’s hives? Just about anything! That’s what makes allergies so notoriously difficult to diagnose. Some of the most common causes of hives include:
- Insect bites, including spiders, fire ants, bees, wasps and even fleas;
- Food, including nuts, corn, wheat and lots more;
- Medications, including prescriptions, flea medications and heartworm medications;
- Exposure to chemicals, ranging from lawn chemicals, to household chemicals such as cleaners, laundry detergent or dryer sheets;
- Airborne allergens such as pollen can cause hives in an extremely sensitive individual.
Allergies can be especially tricky because they can arise suddenly. For instance, your cat may be very tolerant of a particular food, medication or insect bites. Then, one day, your cat may develop an allergic reaction in response to something that has never caused a reaction in the past, despite years of exposure!
Hives are treated by treating the allergic reaction. Antihistimine medications such as Benadryl are typically the first line of defense. Corticosteroids such as prednisone are another common treatment, as are topical antihistimine sprays, shampoos and creams. In an emergency situation involving an acute allergic reaction, your veterinarian will administer an injection that will serve to stop the reaction in its tracks.
If you suspect your pet is reacting to a topical irritant — a topical flea medication or spray, for instance — it’s important to wash the pet to remove all traces of the chemical or irritant.
Signs of a medical emergency include:
- Facial swelling;
- Difficulty breathing;
- Poor balance; or
- Collapsing or fainting.
If you observe these signs in your cat or dog, in conjunction with hives, it’s important to rush your pet to the vet immediately as anaphylaxis can kill in a matter of minutes. The animal’s body swells in reaction to the allergen and this swelling can extend to the throat and airway. Ultimately, the airway swells shut and the animal dies of suffocation.
Due to the fast-acting nature of allergic reaction, it’s important to call your veterinarian immediately, even if you plan to take your cat or dog to the vet for treatment. Often, for dogs, the vet will recommend administering an antihistimine such as Benadryl at home before you depart for the clinic. The Benadryl will serve to stop or slow the progression of the allergic reaction during the ride to the vet’s office, giving your pet a better chance of survival.
In addition, if your vet knows you’re en route with a potentially critical patient, the staff can prepare for the animal’s arrival so he or she can be treated immediately upon arrival.
Allergic reactions can be frightening for pet and owner alike. But understanding the symptoms and when to seek help will improve the chances of a good outcome. It’s also important to keep antihistimine medication such as Benadryl on-hand so it’s there, just in case you need it!
Check out PetLvr’s other articles with tips on pet health care!