LOS ANGELES — Allergies can cause misery for pets and humans alike. But allergies in animals are not always easy to diagnose and treat.
"I feel so bad because he can't tell me what's wrong," said Angela Duyao of Gilroy, 80 miles south of San Francisco. Harley, her 2-year-old Shih Tzu, has food and seasonal allergies.
It took Duyao, an administrative assistant, 18 months and more than $1,000 to find out Harley was allergic to poultry and pollen.
All dogs and cats can get allergies, and the most common reaction is scratching, said veterinarian Donna Spector, an internal medicine specialist based in Deerfield, Ill. "Allergies are very challenging to diagnose accurately because it's a diagnosis of exclusion. It takes a lot of money and a lot of time. It takes a very dedicated owner," she said.
There are four kinds of pet allergies: airborne (tree, grass and weed pollen; mold, mildew and dust mites), fleas, food and contact (like carpeting or detergent). The most common pet allergy comes from fleas.
People and pets can cause each other problems: People can be allergic to pet hair or dander and pets can be allergic to products humans use.
Most pet allergies cause scratching. Some other symptoms include discoloration of hair between toes, rashes, open sores, watery eyes, ear infections, runny noses, vomiting and diarrhea, said Spector, a frequent guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She is a consultant to the pet food company co-owned by DeGeneres called Halo, Purely For Pets.
Beyond money, it takes time. If a pet is hurting, the owner wants a quick fix and it can take months, going on years, to find the answer.
Flea allergies pose unique problems. "One flea can jump on a dog, bite it and keep it symptomatic for seven days," Spector said.
Carol Meir of Takoma Park, Md., spent 18 months experimenting with diet to cure digestive problems in her 4-year-old hairless cat Moshe Moshi.
Meir changed flavors and brands of cat food, cooked for him and took him to animal nutritionists. The conclusion: Moshe Moshi was allergic to poultry and wheat. "It was easy to eliminate wheat from his diet, but it's really hard to eliminate poultry. You'd be surprised how many products have egg as an emulsifier," she said.
Meir is managing the cream point sphynx's allergies with a venison and pork diet and daily medication. She figures it cost her about $750 for vets and tests. Medicine is $250 a year.
"He is worth it. He is the sweetest cat," she said.