With spring almost upon us, most of us look forward to the vibrant flowers, chirping robins, and longer, warmer days. But to many of us, those blooming flowers can also signal the beginning of allergy season. Allergies aren’t just a problem for people, pets also suffer from allergies. In fact 20% of all dogs suffer from some type of allergy- either flea allergy, inhalant allergies or food allergies.
The most common type of allergy is inhalant dermatitis, also known as atopy. Dogs are often allergic to the same inhaled allergens that affect humans: tree and grass pollens, weeds, molds, insects, mildew, and the house dust mite. Many of these allergies occur seasonally, while others are year round.
How do you know if your pet suffers from allergies? Unlike humans with allergies, who typically sneeze, cough, or develop runny noses or watery eyes…pets typically develop severe skin itching. This may be observed as biting, chewing or rubbing at their feet, face or muzzle, ears or belly. Chewing and licking can lead to hair loss, skin irritation and infections.
If you think your pet may suffer from allergies, your pet should have a complete physical examination by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will first rule out a flea allergy which is a common cause of itching in our pets and one that can now days easily be managed.
Depending on the severity of the allergies the workup and treatment varies considerably. If your pet has mild allergies your veterinarian may use a combination of topical shampoos, antihistamines, and fatty acids. These are used to decrease the allergy symptoms. Your vet will work closely with you to determine the best medications for your pet. Animals all differ in their response to medications. Steroids are often used if topical treatments and antihistamines do not help. While they are usually effective they do have numerous side effects and thus should be used sparingly and judiciously.
If your pet has severe allergies than your veterinarian may recommend intradermal skin testing or invitro( blood) allergy testing..in order to determine what your pet is actually allergic to. While it would be ideal to then avoid these allergens, it is usually quite difficult. Most pets like people who suffer from allergies are allergic to multiple allergens. By identifying the allergens hyposentization therapy/ allergy shots can be started. (Testing identifies the specific allergens, very small amounts of the antigen are injected weekly.) The purpose of this therapy is to reprogram the body's immune system. It is hoped that as time passes, the immune system will become less reactive to the problem. 60-70% of dogs respond well to this and it is very safe.
Lastly approxiametley 10% of allergies seen in dogs are due to food allergies. There are no accurate tests for determining food allergies in animals-so you will need to work closely with your veterinarian and start food trials.
So if you think your pet may suffer from allergies -see your veterinarian for help.