Just like many humans, dogs and cats can suffer from allergies. “Allergy” describes a condition of hypersensitivity to substances in the environment that are normally harmless to dogs and cats. When some pets are exposed to certain allergens either through inhalation, ingestion, or direct contact, their immune systems overreact and produce antibodies to combat the allergens. This overreaction can cause severe itching, hair loss, licking of the feet, asthma, conjunctivitis, or gastrointestinal signs.
There are several causes of allergies. Flea allergies are common in both dogs and cats. Therefore, it is important to stay on top of your pet’s flea control. Just because you do not see fleas on your pet, does not mean they are not there. Since adult fleas only account for 5% of the total flea population, that means you cannot see the other 95% of the eggs and immature fleas hiding in your carpet, pet’s bedding, and yard. Flea allergy is triggered by the flea’s saliva and it only takes a few bites to set off an allergic reaction.
Another cause of itching is food allergies. Food allergies are usually a reaction to a major ingredient in food such as beef, chicken, wheat, or corn. If food allergies are suspected, your veterinarian will recommend a food trial. This will require you to feed your pet a prescribed diet made up of novel proteins that are new to your pet’s digestive system. You can only feed this food – no treats or snacks allowed. If your pet’s condition improves, then you manage the allergies by avoiding certain foods.
Atopy (or allergic dermatitis) is an allergic reaction due to repeated exposure to allergens such as dust mites, pollen, weeds, grasses, and insects to name a few. Atopy is often inherited and usually appears at around one to three years of age. There are several treatment options for atopy including avoidance of the allergens, bathing, fatty acid supplements, and oral antihistamines. Antihistamines are only effective in about 20% of atopic cases. Oral steroids can help temporarily, but have potential side effects if given long term.
Allergen specific immunotherapy is another option. Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment that slowly builds your pet’s immunity to the specific allergens that are causing discomfort. The allergens that affect your pet are determined by a blood sample that we submit to a laboratory. Injections with increasing amounts of antigen are given at home, beginning with a low dose and increasing until the highest tolerable concentration is reached. Most pets need to be treated for at least three to five years, but relapses can occur if treatment is stopped. Therefore, lifetime treatment is recommended. With careful attention and dedication, immunotherapy can be a highly effective treatment for your pet’s allergies.
There is no cure for allergies, but they can be managed. If you suspect your pet is suffering from allergies, call us today to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians.