SPRINGTIME ALLERGY MANAGEMENT IN PETS
FROM OUR IN-HOUSE VET BELINDA
For us humans spring is a lovely time as we watch the flowers start to bloom, but for some with that comes dreaded hay fever! Springtime allergies also affect our pets and may cause them the same sort of grief, typically in the form of intensely itchy, red, and inflamed skin. While it can be much more difficult to tell which allergen is causing problems in our pets, there are some common kinds we see frequently.
The most common parasites we deal with are intestinal worms, topical fleas and ticks, and blood born parasites like heartworm. It is important to note that parasites, as a group, always tend to attack and populate the weakest and sickest animals. So the best way to manage all parasites is to keep your pet in the best of health. A strong immune system will fight off parasites but prevention is better than taking chances. Use flea control only if needed and heartworm and tick control based on your local area requirements. Using products that specifically target the parasite, rather than monthly treatments with an all in one parasite control, is preferable.
Supplementary, fleas cause an intense itch for our pets and some animals may develop an allergy to flea saliva, causing what is normally known as ‘flea allergy’ dermatitis. Commonly this shows as a scabby rash on the base of the pet’s tail and/or rump. This allergy is one of the easiest varieties to control; using a veterinary-grade flea treatment product, the allergen can be eliminated. Intensely affected pets may require additional anti-allergy medications to help relieve their signs.
Did you know some dogs can’t eat beef and some cats can’t eat fish? It’s true! Food allergies are typically under-diagnosed in our pets or confused with other kinds of allergies. Dogs and cats may develop dietary sensitivities to common pet food ingredients like beef, mutton, fish, chicken, wheat, corn, soy, dairy foods and eggs. We can’t stop this irregular response so the most effective treatment is to avoid eating the food that causes the problem.
Trying to find the offending agent can be no easy task. This typically involves a process of elimination. Starting the pet on a hypoallergenic diet, or a diet with a less common protein source such as crocodile or venison and wait and see if the signs of allergic disease resolve, if they do, great! It’s then a matter of progressively testing the pet on different proteins to find out which one causes the skin to flare up, and then avoiding this protein for life.
Contact allergies are more rare than a lot of people think, but still occur in our dogs and cats. There are two types of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant. In both cases, the pet must make direct physical contact with a substance in order to suffer a reaction.
Allergic dermatitis occurs when a pet becomes oversensitive to substances in their environment and is caused by repeated physical contact. Despite your pet coming into contact with these substances in the past without issue, skin irritation can take somewhere between six months to two years to develop.
Irritant dermatitis, on the other hand, is when a reaction occurs the first time your pet makes contact with a substance. Common household chemicals and plants that cause this include: poison ivy sap, detergents, soaps, solvents, acids and alkalis, and petroleum by-products.
When diagnosed, these can be some of the more frustrating allergic conditions to manage, as there is no cure. The best way to treat and prevent the disease is to limit exposure to the irritating substance. It may involve having to completely prevent access to certain places or the use of funky bodysuits to reduce exposure!
Atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory, chronic skin disease. This is the second most common skin disease in dogs. Generally harmless materials like pollens, grass, mould spores, house dust mites, and other environmental allergens can bring on sensitive reactions. Symptoms gradually worsen with time and can become more obvious during spring. The signs connected with atopic dermatitis consist of itching, scratching, rubbing, and licking, especially around the face, paws, and underarms.
Early onset of atopic dermatitis is often associated with a family history of skin allergies and breeds like Staffys and West Highland White Terriers are predisposed. Despite the fact dogs are more prone to atopic dermatitis, it may still occur in felines.
Unfortunately, atopic dermatitis seldom goes into remission or naturally resolves. However, bathing your dog or cat in cool water with anti-itch shampoos may help alleviate its symptoms.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
Ultimately, your veterinarian is the best qualified to discuss management of allergic skin disease in pets with you, and the control you use will depend on your objectives and how far you wish to take the diagnosis. Often, decisively finding out which allergen is at play involves testing trials over many weeks and may even lead to a referral to a veterinary dermatologist for additional skin testing or desensitisation therapy. If this is not an option, the signs of allergic skin disease can be controlled with medications that suppress the immune response, antibiotics for secondary infections, and medicated shampoos. There are new medications on the market that can tone down allergic skin responses with fewer side effects than past medications; you should always discuss with your veterinarian if these are the right choice for you and your pet before administering yourself.
Hoping both you and your furry family members have a wonderful springtime, sniffles and scratching free!