Dogs and cats tend to be itchier than humans, especially when these animals have allergies. The slightest contact with the wrong thing -- anything from plants in the backyard to insect stings to certain foods -- may cause them to break out in hives, itchy welts that resemble mosquito bites.

Hives aren't particularly serious and rarely last more than a few days. But they can be ferociously itchy. Some pets, dogs especially, have been known to scratch themselves raw in their vigorous attempts to make the itching go away.

Hives are easy to see in humans, but in pets they are all but invisible under the fur. "Run your hand through your pet's hair, and you will feel little welts if hives are present," says Robert Rizzitano, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Los Angeles. In addition, hives occasionally cause the fur overlying the area to appear slightly raised.

Hives aren't very common, so there is a good chance that you will never have to deal with them. But some pets get them all the time, and even vets may have a hard time figuring out what the allergen is. "Your pet may have encountered the now-troublesome substance her whole life without suffering an allergic reaction. And then one day she suddenly develops an allergy to it," says A. David Scheele, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Midland, Texas.

See Your Vet If...

  • Your pet is scratching, and there are bumps under her fur
  • Patches of fur appear slightly raised
  • Your pet is shedding or scratching more than usual
  • He has scales, bald patches, or a rash
  • He has severe dandruff or dry skin
  • His fur is greasy or smelly even after baths
  • Your pet has broken out in hives and is having trouble breathing
  • He has a bad sunburn
  • There has been a significant change in skin color, or the skin seems loose
  • There is a lump or swelling beneath his skin
  • Your pet has a sore on the skin that won't heal
  • The skin of the lips, abdomen, or rectal area is yellow
  • There are red or purple dots or splotches on his skin

Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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