Allergies in Dogs: Can Dogs Be Allergic to Cats? · The Wildest

Skip to main content

Allergies in Dogs: Can Dogs Be Allergic to Cats?

Don’t blame the cat...

by Dr. Amy Fox, DVM
April 22, 2024
Dog and cat staring at each other inside a home.
Cara Dolan / Stocksy

Yes, dogs can be allergic to cats. Like humans, dogs can develop allergies to various allergens, and cat dander is a possible trigger, along with many other things in your dog’s environment or food. If you observe signs of allergies in your pup, such as ongoing itchy and inflamed skin, consult with a veterinarian to confirm if your dog is suffering from allergies and formulate an appropriate management plan.

Allergies are fairly common in dogs, and just like people, dogs can be allergic to a wide variety of allergens in their environment, including their feline roommates. Most allergic dogs will have some combination of symptoms associated with itchy skin, though the specific signs may vary from one dog to another. It can be a challenge to get to the bottom of what, if anything, your dog is actually allergic to and in some cases, it is not possible to identify a specific allergen.

Part of the challenge is that the same signs, like itchy skin, red skin and/or hair loss, are also signs of many other skin diseases including infections, parasites like fleas, and/or hormonal problems. It is important to rule out these causes first since they are treated in very different ways. And while it is possible your dog is allergic to cats or other allergens, it is important to work with your vet in a methodical way to rule out these other causes first.

If your vet confirms that allergies are the most likely cause of your dog’s signs, they may recommend additional testing and/or treatment. In many cases, dogs are treated for their allergy symptoms without ever testing them for specific allergens. So, many times, you won’t know exactly what your pup is allergic to, and they may be reactive to multiple allergens.

There are ways to do allergen-specific testing in dogs, and typically dogs are tested for at least 50 common allergens specific to where you live including dust mites, pollen, and local plants. This is usually only done when a pet parent is considering allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT), or allergy shots, however.

Allergy symptoms in dogs

Most dogs with allergies manifest their signs primarily in their skin. They are typically very itchy and may have some or all of the following signs: 

  • Itchiness: Dogs with allergies tend to be generally itchy. They may scratch, lick, bite, and chew at their skin and/or rub their bodies against furniture and floors trying to soothe their skin. In some cases this can lead to trauma to their skin, such as hot spots or lick granulomas as well.

  • Inflamed skin: Skin may appear red especially in areas like the paws, around the butt, in the armpits, and/or in the groin area.

  • Obsessive licking: Dogs with allergies usually lick and chew at their fur and paws obsessively due to itchiness. 

  • Recurrent ear infections: Nearly half of all dogs with allergies have ear infections during a flare-up. Your dog may rub or scratch at their ears and the ears may appear red, moist, and/or have a bad odor when an infection is present.

  • Skin fold irritation: Most commonly seen in the armpits, groin, and other skin folds, these areas may be red, have hair loss, and/or appear to have darker skin pigmentation.

  • Sneezing and watery eyes: This is more commonly what people experience with environmental allergies. It is less common for dogs but some may experience these signs, too.

What should you do if your dog is allergic to cats?

The first thing to do if you suspect your dog is allergic to cats is to have your veterinarian do a thorough work-up to rule out other likely possibilities. For example, let’s say you just adopted a cat and your dog started scratching like crazy. It’s possible that your new cat brought fleas into the home and now your dog has them, too. Or maybe you went to visit friends out of town and stayed in a home with a cat, and your dog was acting itchy but also ate different foods while there. Maybe they also played in a yard with different kinds of grass and plants than you have at home.

Any of these exposures to new foods or plants could have also caused an allergic response. There could be many explanations for why your dog is itchy that are not directly due to the cat. It is important to keep that in mind and work through all the possibilities with your vet. While a cat allergy is possible, there are many other more probable explanations and you don’t want to miss something easy to treat, like fleas, in the process. 

If you and your vet rule out all the other possible causes for your dog’s symptoms and suspect allergies are most likely, you still may not know for certain if they are allergic to cats, something else in their environment, or multiple allergens. Many times, this is where pet parents stop diagnostics and opt to treat their dog’s symptoms. It is only in the case of allergy testing and immunotherapy that pet parents get a sense of what exactly their dog may be allergic to. Most of the time, you may suspect certain allergens are triggering your dog and your vet will recommend allergy treatments that will work against a wide range of allergens.

Allergy treatments for dogs

  • Allergy treatments for dogs are mostly aimed at reducing their symptoms of itchy and inflamed skin. These same treatments tend to work regardless of exactly what a dog is allergic to, although some treatments are more specific. These include: 

  • Allergy medications: Some of the most common medications used in the treatment of allergies and related itchy skin include antihistamines, steroids, and long-term drugs that modify the immune response like Apoquel, Cyclosporin, and Cytopoint. 

  • Topical treatments: Dogs with itchy and inflamed skin may also benefit from topical treatments to help soothe their skin. This may include medicated shampoos as well as wipes or leave-on products that will reduce inflammation and prevent secondary infections from yeast and other microbes. When using topical products, be sure your dog does not ingest them by applying a cone or donut around their neck or using a shirt to cover the affected area. 

  • Special diets: Elimination diets are often used as part of a diet trial to determine if your dog has a food allergy. This must be done under close supervision from your vet to ensure there is no cross-contamination with possible allergens. If they have a food allergy, they will need a special diet long-term. Special diets are not useful for environmental allergies, however.

  • Allergy Shots: Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, are designed to gradually desensitize your dog to their allergens by injecting them with increasing amounts of the allergen over time. This requires your pup to have allergy testing done first to determine what they are allergic to.

    Typically, your dog will be tested for 50-60 common allergens specific to your region including dust mites, pollen, plants, and more. Based on these findings, a customized immunotherapy plan is designed around your dog’s allergies. This is a long-term treatment plan as it can take up to one year of allergy shots to see a response in some dogs, and their response can be variable. 

  • Limited exposure: In an ideal situation, if you could remove all the allergens from your dog’s world, their symptoms would disappear. In reality, this is not often possible as most pet parents do not know exactly what their dog is allergic to, and even when they do, some allergens are very difficult to eliminate, like pollen.

    Of course, if your dog’s allergen is your beloved cat, elimination is also not an option. Keeping your pets in separate rooms is not likely to make a significant difference in allergy symptoms and is also not practical for most pet parents. For allergies like flea allergies, making sure your dog and all of your other pets are on year-round flea preventatives can help limit their exposure. Or, if your dog is allergic to dust mites, firing up the vacuum more often and washing all bedding regularly may reduce their exposure.

Common allergies in dogs

All this talk about allergies may have you wondering what else dogs are allergic to. Can dogs be allergic to us? Technically, yes, although this is very rare. Some of the most common allergies in dogs include:

  • Dust mites

  • Grass pollens

  • Tree pollens

  • Weed pollens

  • Mold

  • Yeast

  • Flea saliva

  • Foods like beef, dairy, chicken, and wheat

Dogs can be allergic to many other more unusual allergens, too, even human dander or saliva, cat dander, or really anything in their environment or diet. The confusing part is that most of the time we don’t know exactly what a dog is allergic to, or all of the things a dog is allergic to. Even when allergy testing is performed, testing is based on exposing a dog to a particular allergen and observing the response.

More unusual allergens may not be included in the test panel and therefore a dog’s reaction to them remains unknown. A custom panel of allergens can be created so in a case where a pet parent suspects their dog is allergic to something unusual, it may be possible to test that specific allergen. These results must be carefully interpreted, however, and false-positive and false-negative results are possible. It is best to have allergy testing performed by a board-certified veterinary dermatologist to ensure the most reliable protocols and procedures are in place. The good news is that many dogs respond well to generalized treatments for allergies, so even if you do not know exactly what your dog is allergic to, your pup can get relief from the right combination of medications and treatments. 

FAQs (People also ask):

Can dogs have seasonal allergies? 

Yes, dogs can suffer from seasonal allergies, especially if they are allergic to pollen or specific plant allergens that only appear at certain times of year.

Should I get a dog if I have a cat? 

There are many factors to consider before adding another pet to your family. Be sure to consider whether your cat and/or other pets have experience with dogs and whether they are likely to adjust well. This may also depend on the age, energy level, and size of the dog you plan to adopt. 


Amy Fox

Dr. Amy Fox, DVM

Amy Fox, DVM is a small animal veterinarian in New York City. A lifelong animal lover, Dr. Fox studied biology in college and then worked as a veterinary nurse before pursuing veterinary school at Cornell University.  She has worked in many different settings including shelter medicine, emergency medicine, general practice, and animal cruelty and forensics. She is especially interested in nutrition, preventative medicine and care for senior pets. Dr. Fox also enjoys writing about veterinary medicine and teaching. In her free time she loves to cook, garden, and go for long runs. 

Related articles