Allergy Season is Here – How Your Pet’s Can Be Affected

By Dr. Tracy Appelbaum, Managing Veterinarian

It is that time of year again – the weather is getting warmer and the flowers are blooming. For many allergy sufferers this is not something to look forward to. Runny noses, watery eyes and sneezing are just a few of the unwanted symptoms that people can experience. It might surprise you to know that our pets also suffer from a variety of allergies. Food, environmental and flea allergies are just a few of the many things that can affect our dogs and cats. Pets will often present with red and itchy skin, hair loss and reoccurring ear infections. The allergies also allow them to be predisposed to secondary infections which make the itching worse. Unfortunately, some of these allergies are easier to control than others.

Most pet owners are familiar with food allergies either from things they have read online or seen on pet food commercials. Clients are often shocked at the statistics that only about 1-2% of all dogs seen at the clinic are actually diagnosed with true food allergy. For the canines who present with skin problems only about 24% have an allergy to food. A six to twelve-week elimination diet trial tends to be the gold standard for diagnosing these pets. Most people are nervous to then expose pets to the suspected allergen at the end of the trial so it can be difficult to determine the true culprit.

The environmental allergy category includes any allergen that our pets do not ingest. Everything from pollens, molds, fungus and dust mites can be lumped into this category and is often referred to as atopy. Certain breeds seem to be more predisposed, such as, golden retrievers, labradors, and bulldogs. When we suspect this condition, your veterinarian can suggest either blood testing or intradermal skin testing to attempt to determine the cause of your pet’s allergies. Once identified, allergen specific immunotherapy can be used to treat your pet. With this therapy your pet is given an injection with diluted allergens to help decrease their sensitivity over time. It is estimated that 60-80% of pets will show improvement, however, this does involve a visit to your local veterinary dermatologist to pursue.

Parasites are another cause of allergies in our family dogs and cats. Flea allergy dermatitis can be caused by a reaction to a flea’s saliva when it bites. Owner’s will often not find the fleas on their pet but this does not rule out the disease. Fleas are often found in the environment and sanitation of your home is an important part of treatment. Flea prevention is recommended for these patients all year round. 

Treatment for these pets are often dependent on the cause of the allergy and there is no specific medication to resolve the clinical signs in an allergic dog. Your veterinarian will often focus on a multi-modal approach to treatment. This can include antihistamines, antibiotics, immunosuppressives (steroids and cyclosporine), immunotherapy (cytopoint and hyposensitization), medicated shampoos, and anti-itch medications (apoquel). Treatment often involves long term maintenance which can be frustrating. It is not unusual for a dermatology consult to be recommended for difficult cases. If you feel that your pet may be experiencing issues related to allergies please feel free to contact Rocky Gorge Animal Hospital at (301) 776-7744 or to schedule an appointment.

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