One of the most common reasons that cats and dogs visit us is their constant scratching or licking often related to allergies. For many pets, this is a seasonal condition. But for others it can become a constant, year-long battle. This month we’ll explore pet allergies and how you can help your pets be comfortable.

What is an Allergy?
Allergies are the body’s overreactive inflammatory response to a foreign substance — or antigen. Signs of overreactive responses include redness, irritation and inflammation of the skin and ears — although the eyes and nasal passages may also sometimes become affected.

Itchy Pets

Insect-Related Causes
The most frequent cause of itchy skin is the flea. Besides being a pet and household nuisance, flea bites can cause an allergic reaction that can lead to flea allergy dermatitis. For those pets that develop this allergy, the most important course of action is to ensure proper flea control on their body and in their environment. This means the regular application of a topical or oral preventative, scheduled baths or, in extreme cases, flea dips.

Environmental Causes
Another common cause of allergic skin reactions in our region is Atopic Dermatitis (AD) or eczema. AD develops in response to common allergens in the environment such as trees, grasses, pollens, molds, house dust mites, etc. There is typically a seasonal variation in the intensity of discomfort and there may be periods during the year when no itchiness is observed. Skin or blood testing can reveal the cause and allergy shots can be formulated to desensitize the immune system to these stimuli.

Outdoor Allergens

When pollen and outdoor allergens are increasing or nearing their peak, you might want to prevent your pet from rolling, running or laying on the grass or in fields. As a pet owner, you should consider washing your pet’s paws before they enter the home to help manage the allergen level introduced within the household. Of course if you see your pet scratching or chewing, consider bathing your pet which can offer immediate, albeit temporary, relief and allow you to further examine sensitive areas on your pet.

Food-Related Causes
Food allergies form due to a hypersensitivity to a specific component of the diet — usually a major protein or carbohydrate ingredient such as beef, pork, chicken, soy or wheat. These allergies tend to arise after repeated exposure given food allergies may take months to years to develop. The underlying condition associated with a food allergy is always present and generally does not exhibit any change in intensity throughout the year. The diagnosis of a food allergy requires a strict diet using a novel protein and carbohydrate for at least 8 to 10 weeks. If the symptoms abate during this period and return when the original food is reintroduced, then a diagnosis of a food allergy can be confirmed. Once identified, a diet that eliminates or reduces that particular “trigger” can be formulated.

Allergy Complications

As pets try to relieve their itching, they often can take drastic licking and chewing measures resulting in redness or even bleeding. Unfortunately, secondary bacterial or bacterial yeast infections can occur as your pet starts to scratch, causing abrasions in the skin that allow surface organisms to invade and cause localized swelling. Treatment of these infections is required before the underlying cause of the allergy can be determined. Other less common causes of itchy skin can include scabies and ringworm disease.

 

Excessive Licking

Contact Us
Unfortunately, these itchy skin diseases can appear similar and cannot be properly diagnosed without a review of your pet’s history, a physical exam, and diagnostic tests. If you have questions, please contact us.

Fortunately, great progress enabling pets to experience relief via two new drugs, Apoquel and Cytopoint, has been made in the past few years. Based upon your pet’s specific condition, we can use these medications to deliver immediate (starting in 4 hours) to long-term relief. Conventional treatment options may still include antibiotics, antifungals, parasiticides, immunomodulatory drugs, allergy shots, prescription/restricted diets, flea preventatives and combinations thereof. Just remember that allergies are a lifelong problem and can only be managed, not cured.

We are here to help you and your pet find the peace and comfort that you seek.