As springtime approaches and trees and flowers burst into bloom and begin to shed pollen, we see an increase in allergic reactions. Some pets also suffer year-round from food and environmental allergies. Allergic dermatitis is one of the most frustrating conditions that veterinarians and pet owners need to diagnose and manage to alleviate an itchy pet’s discomfort.
Most pets are allergic to more than one substance, which compounds the challenge of determining the cause and managing the reactions. We classify allergies in three categories—environmental, food, and flea. Although different factors cause each category, affected pets show similar signs, such as:
- Red, irritated skin
- Excessive licking
- Hot spots
- Ear infections
- Hair loss
- Skin pustules
Over the past 10 years, veterinarians have seen an increase in environmental allergies in pets. Environmental allergies can affect your pet seasonally or year-round, because many of the allergens can be found in your home. We break down environmental allergies into two categories—contact and inhalant, or atopy, allergies.
- Contact allergies include any item your pet touches, such as:
- Cleaning solutions
Contact allergens can be found in bedding, carpet, furniture, freshly mopped floors, or daily or monthly medications.
- Inhalant allergies flare up most commonly in the spring and fall, but can appear all year long. We see atopy in pets with a hypersensitivity to the following allergens:
- Dust or storage mites
Pets allergic to dust mites or dander suffer year-round. These allergies are often combined with others, making a definitive diagnosis difficult.
Pets with environmental allergies require treatment during their “itchy season” or potentially year-round. Fortunately, several options are available that will help stop your pet’s itching, without the negative, long-term side effects of steroids.
Many people believe food allergies in pets are common, but they are actually quite rare. Food allergies are often a hypersensitivity to a protein rather than a grain, which is another common misconception. Pets with food allergies most commonly can’t handle chicken, beef, lamb, fish, dairy, or eggs. These allergic reactions can develop over a long period of time, and your pet may suddenly develop an allergy to the food she has eaten her entire life.
Thirty percent of food-allergic pets also have skin conditions, making a food allergy diagnosis difficult. Food allergies are hard to pinpoint and require dedication from the pet owner in performing food trials. If we suspect your pet has a food allergy, we will switch the food to one that contains a protein source your pet has never eaten, or a prescription hypoallergenic food. This will be the only food your pet can eat for eight weeks. If we notice an improvement in your pet’s allergy, we will reintroduce the old diet to see if the signs return. If they do, we know your pet is allergic to at least one ingredient in that diet. We will often need to perform several trials with over-the-counter foods to find the appropriate food for your pet. Prescription diets eliminate that guesswork.
For pets with flea allergies, a bite from just one flea can cause a massive allergic response. Prevent your flea-allergic pet from suffering by administering quality year-round flea prevention. If you wait until you see fleas on your pet, or the telltale sign of hair loss on the hind end, it’s too late. Fleas have already taken over your home, and eradicating the fleas in all their life stages is almost impossible.
Is your pet itching for relief? Schedule an appointment to determine the cause of your furry friend’s scratching and make her comfortable again.
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