The same way people often have allergies to different substances in their environment, our pets can suffer from a variety of allergic reactions. From foods, to pollens, to bugs, allergens are all around us—but the way we react varies from person to person, and pet to pet. In some cases, the immune system shifts into overdrive, causing an exaggerated response to a small problem, and we see the clinical signs associated with allergies. We know that witnessing your pet’s face swell up can be distressing, so let’s learn why it happens, and how you can better prepare for, and prevent, an allergic reaction in your pet.  

What is causing my pet’s swelling?

Swelling occurs when inflammation causes fluid build-up (i.e., edema) in the tissues under the skin, and develops most often as an allergic reaction to a stimulus when the body releases a cascade of substances to help fight off a supposed threat. When the immune system functions normally, mild swelling or itching may be present, but hypersensitive pets have magnified responses to minor problems, leading to excessive swelling and other potentially serious signs. While pets can be allergic to many different allergens (e.g., molds, pollen, grasses, and foods), facial and eye swelling is usually caused by a magnified response to an insect sting or a vaccination. 

What should I do if I notice my pet’s face is swollen?

Don’t panic. Seeing facial swelling can trouble pet owners, but seeking prompt veterinary care usually resolves the issue. Start by contacting Urgent Pet Care Omaha immediately for guidance. Typically, affected pets will receive injections to reduce inflammation and calm the immune response. In severe instances, affected pets may need an intravenous catheter and will require brief hospitalization for monitoring. Most pets recover quickly and return home the same day.  

Are there other signs I should monitor in my pet?

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Since facial swelling could be a precursor to a life-threatening immune reaction, you’ll need to watch your pet closely for signs of anaphylactic shock. This occurs when the blood pressure drops, and severe swelling leads to airway blockage. Anaphylaxis signs may include difficulty breathing, collapse, a rapid or weak pulse, hypersalivation, or vomiting. Affected pets may also itch, or have hives. If your pet has facial swelling or any of the above signs, don’t delay—head to your nearest emergency veterinarian right away. 

What can I do to prevent future allergic reactions in my pet?

Preventing an allergic reaction is not always easy, but if you can determine the underlying cause for your pet’s reaction, you can take steps to limit exposure to that particular allergen. For instance, if your pet reacted to a bee sting, try to avoid outdoor areas where bees are prevalent, such as flower gardens. If your pet reacted to a vaccination, your Urgent Pet Care veterinarian will encourage you to have a discussion with your family veterinarian to determine whether to continue with that particular vaccine. If the vaccine is essential (e.g., rabies), it may be recommended that an antihistamine dose be given prior to the injection to minimize the chances of reaction. 
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If your pet is prone to allergic reactions, or has other allergies that may make them more susceptible to an exaggerated immune response, keeping a small stock of antihistamines in your medicine cabinet would be wise. Consult with our veterinary team to determine the best medication for your individual pet, but in most cases, diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) is the drug of choice. Ensure you purchase diphenhydramine only, without decongestants or other additives. While liquid versions may be easier to administer, we recommend avoiding these, since they may be sweetened with xylitol—a potentially toxic substance for pets. Particularly at-risk pets may require portable doses of epinephrine, commonly known as EpiPens, for emergency situations. If you are unsure what your pet needs, contact our team for guidance. 

Pet allergies are increasingly common. Fortunately, veterinary medicine advances have made treating them possible, but pet owners must continue to be vigilant with their hypersensitive pets. Contact Urgent Pet Care Omaha if you believe your pet is having an allergic reaction and needs urgent veterinary care.