Temperatures are falling, leaves are turning, campfires are burning…
and your pet is keeping you up all night itching!
Yes, allergy season is in full-swing. This time of year, we are seeing several cases of allergy-related symptoms every day in our practice.
Allergy symptoms include itching anywhere on the body but often focused on the armpits, abdomen, and/or inner thighs, scratching the ears or shaking the head, licking/chewing the feet, redness around the eyes, and itching around the tail and anus. Ear infections often occur as an allergy symptom as well. Is your pet suffering from any of these symptoms?
If you call us about allergy symptoms, we will likely recommend an exam for your pet. Scratching can lead to inflamed and irritated skin, which can then quickly lead to a skin infection. Because of the speed that symptoms can progress, getting an exam and treatment quickly for your pet is important. While you are here with your pet, we will assess how badly the allergies are affecting your pet. For some pets only mildly affected, we may just recommend an antihistamine trial. For other pets, a medicated shampoo may suffice. Some pets need prescription medications for itching, antibiotics, or anti-fungal medication. Also, we may need to perform additional testing, such as swabbing your pet’s ears to assess for a bacterial or yeast infection. We may perform a skin scraping or impression smear to see if your pet’s skin is affected by a bacterial or yeast infection.
The fun thing about allergies is that all cases are different!
Why do pets get allergies? Some pets have a hypersensitivity to fleas, and will develop an allergic reaction to a flea bite. For these pets, we recommend year-round prescription flea prevention. For pets affected by seasonal or non-seasonal allergies, we believe they are likely genetically predisposed to develop them. In these pets, symptoms generally appear before the age of 3, but not always. Certain breeds are predisposed to allergies. These include Boxer, many terrier breeds, Chow, Cocker spaniel, French bulldog, German shepherd dog, Golden retriever, Irish setter, Labrador retriever, Poodle, Rhodesian ridgeback, Shar-pei, Viszla, Bichon Frise, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and Great Dane.
Allergies are extremely frustrating to both diagnose and treat. Allergies can be seasonal or year-round. Like humans, pets can suffer from seasonal allergies which usually peak in spring and then again in fall. The typical allergens for these pets are pollens, molds, and dander. However, if we start suspecting that your pet has year-round allergies, we may first try to determine if your pet has a food allergy. Many owners don’t think their pets could have a food allergy because they’ve been feeding the same food for many years. Often, it takes a long time for the body to start reacting to certain allergens, hence a later development of a food allergy. To attempt to diagnose a food allergy, we will recommend a food trial.
Food allergies are very common in pets, and unfortunately there is no test for food allergies other than a diet trial. The allergen in a food allergy is usually either beef or chicken, although anecdotal evidence is pointing to likely grain or soy allergies in some pets too. Beef and/or chicken is found in most over-the-counter pet foods and treats. Even in foods touted to be good for pets with allergies, beef or chicken by-products or fats are often found in the ingredient list. Something listed as “poultry-by-product” could still cause an allergic reaction, and is an ingredient missed by many who read labels. Therefore, it is extremely important to work closely with your veterinarian when you choose a certain food for a diet trial.
Recent research has also shown that in the manufacturing of pet food, cross-contamination can occur on production lines. One study found that about 40% of pet foods tests contained meats different than those listed on product labels, based on DNA testing. Another study via ELISA testing showed that about 50% contained meats not declared on the label, or were missing meat types that were declared on the label. Anyone with a peanut allergy knows that a small amount of allergen residue is enough to set off an allergic reaction and the same goes for a pet with a true food allergy!
Allergy testing may be needed to fully diagnose your pet’s allergies if the recommended treatments or diet trials are not effective. Pets can have allergies to dust mites, grass, molds, pollens, etc. present in the environment year-round. This is a similar procedure as is done in people, with an area of the skin injected with many known allergens. When a site swells, this indicates that the pet is allergic to that substance. Treatment, based on those results, can then be started in the form of regular injections or drops in the mouth to hopefully result in desensitization to the allergens, which means less itching for your pet. This is an investment in the long-term comfort of your pet, but it generally yields good results.
Coping with allergies in pets is frustrating and can become expensive. Hearing and watching your pet scratch and itch is irritating, and harmful for your pet’s well-being. Some pets respond well to anti-histamines, while others do not. If caught soon enough, some pets require an easier treatment, while others may need a treatment that is much more aggressive. While steroids work well to treat most allergy symptoms, they come with their own side effects, are harmful if given long-term, and often just mask the problem, as symptoms often return when steroids are stopped.
Determining and treating the root cause of allergies is our priority, and we will do our best to work with you to help treat your pet’s allergies.