Client Education Blog

All About Allergies

Pets Suffer from Allergies Too

Have you ever seen a dog incessantly scratching or maybe licking his paws? Chances are that pet was suffering from allergies. Allergies are a very common problem we see in both cats and dogs. This article will discuss symptoms, diagnostics tests, and treatments relating to all types of allergies but mainly focus on allergy issues that affect the skin.

How Do We Know Its Allergies?

The most common symptom we see with allergies in dogs is scratching. Common areas that are affected are the abdomen, chest, armpits, and paws. Often times, skin infections and ear infections occur secondary to allergies. With skin infections, there will be redness, rash and often scaling areas on the skin. Ear infections typically results in redness in the ears and the ears often appear dirty with dark brown debris present in the ear canal. Dogs and cats will typically paw at their ears and shake their head when an ear infection is present. So a history of scratching with the appropriate physical exam findings can give us a strong suspicion that we are dealing with allergies.

What Are They Allergic To?

There are 3 main categories of things dogs and cats develop allergies to:

  1. Environmental airborne allergens like pollens and molds. If the symptoms occur during one season of the year every year then it is likely an airborne pollen or mold. A skin test where small amounts of specific environmental allergens are injected into the skin can be performed to identify allergens. If there is redness and mild swelling at an injection site then we know that the pet is allergic to that specific allergen.
  2. Allergens in their food – usually the proteins/meats. When symptoms become non-seasonal then we can be dealing with a food allergy or possibly multiple environmental allergies where there is no longer a seasonal component. With food allergy dogs and cats are typically allergic to the proteins (meats) in a diet. It most often occurs when a pet has been fed the same food for awhile and over time they become hypersensitive to some of the ingredients. When a food allergy is suspected a food trial with a special diet is done. The hypoallergenic diet is fed for a 10-12 week period and if allergy symptoms resolve then food is the likely culprit.
  3. Fleas. Monthly flea prevention is an easy way to protect your pet year round.

How To Help With the Scratching

When a pet is intensely itchy from allergies there are several options to help them get comfortable. It is important to first address any infections that may be present since skin and ear infections add to the intensity of the scratching. Next, we consider medications that specifically help with the symptom of scratching. Antihistamines, steroids and a newer medication called Apoquel are all options to try and get a pet relief from the scratching. Antihistamines are safe but often do not provide adequate relief when the scratching is intense. Steroids are very effective and can be safely used for short periods of time. Apoquel is similar to steroids in efficacy but is safe to use for a much longer period of time. Apoquel is a good drug to use if the symptoms are lasting longer than a few weeks. Other things that might help are medicated shampoos and omega3 fatty acids.

There are 2 ways to end the allergy symptoms once and for all.

  1. Avoid the problematic allergens completely. Avoidance of allergens is what is done with a food trial where either a hydrolysed protein diet is fed or a food that has a protein source the pet has never eaten before is fed. If the new food results in allergy symptoms resolving then an answer has been found and as long as the pet doesn’t eat the food ingredients they are allergic to then the symptoms should stay away.
  2. Desensitize the pet to those allergens. When allergy skin testing has been done and identified specific environmental things a pet is allergic to then desensitization can be tried. This is done by giving allergy shots or allergy drops in the mouth. The shots and drops contain small but increasing amounts of the things the pet is allergic to. The idea is that over time they will become no longer sensitive to the allergens. It does not always work but definitely worth a try if a pet has allergy symptoms several months out of the year and a food trial has not worked.

Don’t Hesitate to Call Your Vet for Help

Allergies can be a very frustrating problem for cats, dogs, and owners of these pets. With scratching and infections, the pets can become very uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. The symptoms can continue for long periods of time in many cases. Please give your vet a call if there is a suspicion your 4 legged friend may have allergy issues so the problem can be addressed safely, effectively and as soon as possible.