My neighbor and I are having a disagreement over whether animals have allergies. She thinks that animals do not suffer with the ailment the way humans do. I disagree. Please settle this disagreement.

The answer to the question is yes! Animals can suffer just like humans. They can be allergic to a multitude of things such as grass, mold, dust, wool, fleas and food, just to name a few. If your pet exhibits excessive sneezing, watery eyes, scratching, hives and/or diarrhea, it is recommended that you bring your pet to your veterinarian to be examined for possible allergies.According to the April issue of Dog Fancy Magazine, an allergy is the body's reaction to a foreign substance that it cannot tolerate well. Allergy-causing substances may be eaten, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Once the body recognizes this foreign substance, called an allergen, it produces antibodies, causing an allergic reaction. The severity of the reaction depends on the type of allergy and the degree of sensitivity to the allergen.

Respiratory allergies are most often caused by pollens. Different animals can be sensitive to different types of pollens, but some of the most common troublemakers are ragweed, Russian thistle, prairie sage and pine pollen. Animals affected by pollen usually have a runny nose and runny eyes. They sneeze and may show signs of allergic asthma.

A skin allergy, usually called contact dermatitis, is caused by external irritants such as insecticides, shampoos, detergents, skin-care products and some plants. Animals with skin allergies often have red, hot patches of skin that may break out in welts, usually in the area surrounding the spot where the allergen agent came in contact with the skin. When the animal scratches or chews itself in an attempt to relieve the itch, the skin becomes more irritated and damaged. Unless the itch-scratch cycle is broken, a secondary infection can set in, compounding the problem.

Food allergies can cause myriad problems such as gas and bloating, bloody diarrhea, skin problems, such as eczema, and even behavior changes, including hyperactivity or aggression.

Diagnosing the allergen can be tricky. If you suspect your pet has an allergy, a physical examination by the family veterinarian is necessary to determine the cause and treatment for your pet.

"You can help the doctor identify the cause of the allergy by providing a detailed history of your pet's problem," advises Purdue University's James C. Blakemore, DVM. Include age at onset of allergic symptoms, seasonal occurrence, first signs of trouble, skin products used, changes in diet and reactions observed in the animal.

Unfortunately, there are no cures for allergies. You can desensitize the animal, avoid suspected allergen agents to prevent a reaction, or drugs can treat the symptoms, but nothing can cure the original allergy.

If you have a question about health, behavior problems, laws, etc., regarding wild or domestic animals, please write Leslie Kelson-Probert, Salt Lake County Animal Services, 511 W. 3900 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84123 or call her at 264-2247.