What are pet allergies?
Seasonal pet allergies are also referred to as atopic dermatitis. Symptoms include scratching and licking of the face, ears, legs, feet, lower chest, and abdomen. In cats, thin or patchy haircoats, or hair-pulling may be seen. Recurrent ear, skin and anal sac infections are also common. Seasonal allergies can start to be a problem around February, when the tree pollen counts start to climb and can continue through August when “hay fever” sets in. If your pet has allergy issues year-round, they may be allergic to environmental factors such as dust mites and cigarette smoke; or they may have a food hypersensitivity (an allergy to common protein or carbohydrate sources in foods).
Why do allergies in pets happen?
A defect in the healthy skin barrier causes abnormal penetration of the allergens, which then triggers a hypersensitivity response. There is a genetic predisposition, with certain dog breeds such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers, West Highland Terriers, Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels and Shih Tzus being especially high-risk. However, any pet can develop allergies. Most pets will begin showing symptoms between one and three years of age, while food hypersensitivity in general develops around five to six years of age. A different environment (moving, spending more time outside, etc) may also trigger allergy symptoms.
How do we treat your pet’s allergies?
If you think your pet has allergy symptoms, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Allergies are easier to treat when diagnosed early, so don’t wait too long! A physical exam is important to rule out other causes of itchiness, including fleas and skin mites, bacterial and yeast infections, autoimmune diseases and even cancer. Along with the exam, your veterinarian may recommend testing that could include ear or skin cytology, which includes looking at cells under a microscope, a bacterial or fungal culture, or a skin scraping to look for mites. If a more serious underlying disease is suspected, bloodwork or a biopsy may be recommended.
After a diagnosis is made, there are a few common pet allergy treatments. One option may include medications, such as antihistamines, steroids, or newer anti-itch medications such as Apoquel and Cytopoint, to control itch. Topical and/or oral antibiotics, antifungals can help fight secondary infections and to prevent further flare-ups topical and/or oral skin protectants and supplements may be recommended. For more severe cases, a referral to a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing and immunotherapy (shots) may be recommended. It is important to remember that this is a chronic problem, so recheck visits and treatment adjustments are a normal and expected part of treatment.
What can I do at home?
- Keep your pet on year-round flea and tick prevention. This helps prevent external causes of itching, keeping the skin and haircoat healthier. There are many great oral and topical products available to match your pet’s needs and lifestyle.
- If there are known triggers of allergy symptoms, limit your pet’s exposure. For example, keeping your pet inside with the windows closed when you have just cut grass.
- Frequent bathing with a soothing oatmeal or medicated shampoo during the allergy season helps keep allergens off your pet’s skin.
- A veterinary-specific Omega-3 fatty acid supplement helps reduce inflammation and promote a healthier skin barrier. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations!
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If you have additional questions or need to schedule an appointment, give us a call at 913-681-2600!