ALLERGIES IN DOGS AND CATS
WHAT ARE ALLERGIES?
Allergies occur when an animal’s immune system responds abnormally (over-reacts) to some everyday substance, called an allergen, like pollen, mold, grass, animal hair, feathers, house dust or fleas and other insects. These substances trigger an allergic reaction when inhaled, swallowed, or contact the skin. Certain food items can also cause allergic reactions.
DO DOGS AND CATS REALLY SUFFER FROM ALLERGIES?
YES! Any pet can develop allergies. An overwhelming 30% of all skin irritations in the dogs are caused by allergic reactions. The clinical signs of allergies may be seasonal and often correspond to the rise and fall in the levels of tree and grass pollens or heightened periods of mold activity, particularly, in the moist or warm climates. Food or insect allergies are usually non-seasonal.
ARE PET ALLERGIES LIKE HUMAN ALLERGIES?
The underlying biological reactions to allergies are the same in humans and pets. The outward signs, however, are different. Allergic humans suffer from nasal and sinus congestion, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, headaches and runny eyes. Although dogs can show similar symptoms, it is much more common to find itchy ears, eyes, paws and flanks. The anal and rump areas may also be affected. Reactions to food allergens may cause itching or anal area, anal sac problems or vomiting and diarrhea.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SIGNS OF AN ALLERGIC PET?
Signs of allergies begin with redness and itching of the ears, eyes, feet and rump areas. As allergies progress the itching can involve most or all of the body. Self-mutilation can lead to bacterial skin infections, accompanied by hair loss, foul odors and other changes of the skin. Remember, not all of the signs described can always be attributed exclusively to allergies. Other problems can cause the same signs. For this reason, it is important that your pet's skin problems be accurately diagnosed.
HOW WILL MY PET'S ALLERGIES BE TREATED?
The best form of treatment would be to keep the pet away from the allergen, but in most cases, this is difficult, if not impossible! Basic therapy involves using medications that will often quickly control symptoms. These include steroids, antihistamines, omega fatty acids, shampoos and antibiotics when needed. For seasonal allergies this may be all that your pet needs from time to time. Thyroid function should be checked as well.
A drug called Atopica, an immune modulator that helps your pet’s body not over-react when it encounters an offending allergen can be used for pets with non-seasonal issues. Success and safety of this drug has proved to be very good.
Another form of therapy involves using the drug Apoquel, which works to shut down itch receptors in the skin and has helped many pets with severe allergies. The use of this medication is becoming very common.
The newest medication, CYTOPOINT, can be injected every 4-6 weeks or as needed, also works with specific receptors in the skin and has proven very effective. These drugs are most often used in our more-difficult cases or when it is difficult to give the pet oral medication.
Hyposensitization to the offending allergen(s) after extensive testing to determine what your pet is allergic to is another form of treatment. Injections are prepared containing specific amounts of offending allergen(s) to be administered on a regular basis. This allows the animal to build up a tolerance to the allergen(s). This therapy requires screening then long-term use of specially prepared desensitization medication.
Food allergies are uncommon and digestive disease almost always occurs along with skin problems. Pets may be allergic to basic food ingredients. Most every commercial food contains some of the same ingredients that can cause allergies. New and specialized foods are now readily available to help both diagnose and treat these kinds of problems. These special diets can be used to help these pets.
REMEMBER: Your pet is unique, and the type of medication, proper doses, and frequency of giving the medication may change or vary over time. Regular exams, testing and careful monitoring at home is essential for long-term success. Most allergies are not cured but rather, controlled!
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