Does My Pet Have Allergies?

Pets that scratch excessively may be allergic to something. Some pets are affected at certain times of the year, while others have problems all year.

What are the allergens that affect our pets?

Although there are many causes of itchy skin in pets, there are three main types of allergic skin disease: parasitic, such as flea bite dermatitis from the presence of fleas; food allergy, secondary to a protein or grain ingested over a period of time; and atopy, caused by exposure to an environmental allergen. These allergy types may prove difficult to diagnose and manage. Recognizing the pattern of skin involvement can provide insight into a potential cause of the pet’s allergic skin disease. Affected sites noticed with flea allergy include the lower back, tail head, perineum, hind limbs, and umbilical area. Food allergy tends to affect the ears and rear of the pet; however, it can also mimic signs of atopy. Classic signs of atopy involve self-trauma to the face, feet, armpits, and groin regions of the pet due to intense itchiness.

What are the signs of allergic dermatitis?

The most common sign of allergies is itching of the skin –either in one area or generalized over the body. Itchy signs can include chewing and licking of the feet, rubbing or pawing at the face or eyes, rubbing the head or ears along the carpet or sofa, rubbing the belly or rear on the floor, and redness of the skin in the affected areas. Many pets will lick their armpits, thighs, belly or abdomen. Scratching at the ears or ear flicking and head shaking is also indicative of allergies. The constant scratching and licking can result in a secondary bacterial skin infection. Other signs of allergies may also include reoccurring ear infections, full anal glands, and anal gland infections. Most pets will start showing allergy signs between one and three years of age. Initially, many allergies will occur seasonally when the allergen is at its peak. But each year, the allergy season starts a little earlier and lasts a little longer and the allergies worsen. Eventually, with time, allergic dermatitis can become year-round. Allergens such as house dust mites, molds and mildew are present any season and pets sensitive to these will suffer year-round.

What are some of the treatments?

Having an itchy pet thoroughly evaluated by a veterinarian is the best option. Keeping a record of when the pet became itchy, duration of the itchiness, and what makes it worse proves very helpful for diagnosis, especially when combined with a proper dermatological exam. There are a variety of therapeutic options once allergic skin disease is diagnosed. Avoiding the allergen (food allergy), medical management (flea, food, and atopy), and controlling the environment (flea and atopy) are examples of ways to address the allergic pet and any secondary infections. In addition, topical shampoos, leave-on lotions, and sprays may help mildly itchy pets by removing the offending allergen from the skin and rebuilding the skin barrier. Essential fatty acids may be given orally to improve skin function. Medications such as antihistamines, steroids, and immune-modulating drugs are specifically designed to address the itch and manage the atopic pet. A food trial may be required for the food allergic pet, and proper consistent parasite control is crucial for every pet with allergic skin disease. With any of these options, be sure to discuss with your veterinarian before starting a treatment plan.

Remember that allergies are controlled and not cured. Keep in mind that each allergy patient is different and each treatment will be individualized to that pet. Some therapies will work better than others for different pets. Above all, remember that allergies are controlled at best. Allergies are not cured. Close communication with your veterinarian is essential in keeping your allergy pet as comfortable as possible.

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