Just like people, pets can show allergic symptoms when their immune systems begin to recognize certain everyday substances – or allergens – as dangerous. Even though these allergens are common in most environments and harmless to most animals, a pet with allergies will have an extreme reaction to them.
Also, just like people, pets have variable severity and symptoms of allergies. Some pets may just be mildly, seasonally itchy in the spring. Other pets may be itchy year round, have chronic skin infections and hair loss. Most often, dog/cat allergies are inherited.
This month, we are touching on an overview of allergies and what can be done to help your furry family members when dealing with allergen reactions.
What are the general symptoms of allergies?
The list includes itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin; increased scratching; itchy, runny eyes; itchy back/base of tail (most commonly flea allergy); itchy ears and ear infections; sneezing; vomiting; diarrhea; paw chewing/swollen paws; and constant licking.
Allergic pets may also suffer from secondary bacterial or yeast ear and skin infections, which may cause hair loss, scabs or crusts on the skin.
What are dogs/cats allergic to?
There are four common categories of allergies. Many pets have a combination of allergens.
1 – Flea allergy: even one flea bite every two weeks can cause severe allergies.
2 – Food allergens: the most common food allergies are proteins like chicken, beef, lamb, etc. Less commonly, grains like rice and corn.
3 – Inhalant allergens (atopy or atopic dermatitis): includes dust mites, dander, molds, pollens, grasses, trees, etc.
4 – Contact allergens: bacteria, yeast, grasses, dander, etc.
How can dog allergies be treated?
Allergies will often be a lifelong problem for the pet and may get worse with age if they develop other allergies.
Unfortunately there is no cure for allergies. The goal of treatment is to provide relief from the itching and prevent chronic skin and ear infections. Typically, your vet will recommend a multimodal approach to treatment depending on the pets symptoms and suspected allergies.
• Flea prevention: this is a must for any dog/cat with allergies. One flea bite can cause a dog/cat with allergies to be itchy for weeks. Administer flea product once a month year round. Also consider treating the house with Knockout or flea bomb if needed.
• Bathing: Bathing with prescription medicated shampoos are helpful for a number of reasons. First, they kill many of the bad bacteria and yeast on the skin cause skin infections. Second, they help soothe itchy, raw skin. Finally, they help remove allergens that get trapped in the hair and on the skin which cause chronic irritation.
• Environment: Many pets have inhalant allergies to pollens, dander, grass and many more. You can not stop your pet from breathing air, so to help cut down on allergens in the air here are a few tips:
– vacuum frequently and clean your pets bedding frequently
– consider an air purifier for your house
– avoid taking your pet outside right after mowing the lawn or on walks in areas with high pollen. If you have a lot of weeds in the yard have them removed or avoid having your pet go in those areas.
• Food allergies: the only way to diagnose food allergies is with a food trial. A food trial eliminates all suspected/common food allergens with a hypoallergenic diet. After the pets allergies have improved one food at a time is introduced to the diet to see if the pet will have a reaction. A food trial is a big commitment that your veterinarian can discuss with you.
• Medications and supplements: antihistamines will help reduce the itchy feeling many pets have. Benadryl works well for initial itchy episodes. Zyrtec or Claratin work well for long-term allergy treatment. Steroids and/or antibiotics/antifungals are often used initially with bad allergy reactions that include hair loss, scabbing, skin infections, ear infections, etc. Steroids are especially effective in calming down the over reactive immune system. These medications should not be used for long-term or chronic treatment due to their side effects. As a supplement, fish oils have been shown to both improve dry itchy skin and help the immune system.
• Allergy testing: allergy testing can be helpful if your veterinarian recommends starting immunotherapy with serum injections (hyposensitization injections or allergy shots). The shots are usually a lifelong treatment and are intended to increase the pet’s tolerance to allergens. Injections are usually only indicated in pets with moderate to severe allergies. Food allergy test is not a reliable method to rule out food allergies.
If you find that your furry family member is suffering from symptoms like those we have discussed, we encourage you to ask your veterinarian at your pet’s next appointment or schedule a specific consult to address the concern early on in its presentation.
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