Allergies in Pets – Scratching the surface

Have you noticed your pet scratching a lot lately?  Shaking their head or chewing at their paws?  If so, most likely it is due to allergies (Atopy).  We need to schedule your pet for a comprehensive exam to have several diagnostic tests done to best determine the cause(s) of their allergy problems.  The most common symptoms that owners will notice from their pet is excessive licking, scratching or chewing, odor from the ears or skin, hair loss, crusted skin lesions, greasy or oily skin, scaly, dry or red skin, stained or inflamed paws.  Recurrence of skin infections and/or ear infections is also common in allergic pets.

Depending upon the specific allergy that your pet has different recommendations and course of treatment will be made.  After a complete physical exam, complete blood panel, and fecal testing, the doctor can establish a complete history and better picture of what the issues are affecting your pet.  Allergies can be caused by various things including environmental, food, or flea allergies but all are associated with the immune system overreacting. This over-reaction by the immune system causes the body to release numerous chemicals that start an inflammatory cascade, or chain reaction effect.  The endpoint being that the skin is red, inflamed, itchy and irritated.  The skin can additionally become dry, crusty, and hot, with secondary bacterial or yeast infections.  Once the cause of the allergy is known we can maintain the best health for your pet by controlling what is causing the body to react and the discomfort that your pet is feeling.

Several diagnostic tests can be done by the Doctor in our veterinary office (many with results on the same day).  This is needed to indicate how to best treat your pet. Examples of this would be a skin cytology, skin scrapings, fungal culture, skin biopsy, urinalysis, thyroid profile along with complete labs, and allergy testing to determine the underlying allergen predominately causing the issues.

These tests are very important to indicate how we should be treating your pet and the cause of the allergy symptoms. Often, treatment is an ongoing process. And once your pet is diagnosed with allergies (depending upon which type of allergy they have, sometimes with multiple issues) it can be an ongoing lifestyle maintenance issue.

Flea allergies will go away if the source is removed and no more flea exposure occurs. Being on a monthly preventative is very important and the treatment would be to avoid the pet from being exposed to fleas.

Food allergies will work the same as with flea allergies.  Avoidance of the offending allergens is needed.  Food allergies are diagnosed by using an elimination prescription diet.  This cannot be accomplished with any over-the-counter diets, as they have cross contamination of ingredients.  This is a diet provided by the Veterinarian and is selected to restrict allergic components.  A pet must be fed this diet and this diet alone for 3-4 months to rule out food allergies.  Many pets can have combination food and environmental allergies.

Environmental allergies require more maintenance and can be a year round concern. Weekly, bi-monthly or monthly medicated baths,  using daily ear washes, Hypoallergenic prescription diet food and treats, medications (Apoquel, Atopica, antibiotics, antifungals, allergy immunotherapy, etc), routine lab work and exams are necessary to keep your pet in their best health to avoid flare ups and addressing any skin issues before they become worse.

Environmental Allergies (Atopy) is diagnosed based on the clinical signs and presenting complaints.  The specific allergen, to which the pet is allergic, is diagnosed via a blood allergy panel or skin prick test (performed by a veterinary Dermatologist).  Our hospital utilized the blood allergy panel.  Once the allergen(s) are known, specific immunotherapy is used.  Immunotherapy is the administration of very small amounts of the items to which the pet is allergic.  These can be administered via injections under the skin or via drops administered under the tongue.  The veterinarian will discuss what the best treatment option for your pet is.  Immunotherapy is designed to train the immune system to be less reactive.

Another common concern are skin issues that can be contagious to people. Certain types of mites from pets, and ringworm are contagious. Ringworm can live in the environment due to the spores for over one year and still be contagious.  Once your pet is diagnosed with ringworm the best protocol to follow would be to clean and disinfect all areas that your pet has lived on or within the home. This may include bedding, floors, countertops, carpeting, and window sills.  Any concerns should be discussed directly with your Veterinarian.  See our other articles discussing Ringworm.

Dr. Hodge is a Tampa Florida Veterinarian and owner of Harbourside Animal Hospital

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