Does your pet itch? Does he seem to be obsessive about licking his paws, or scratching other areas of his body? Is his skin inflamed? Has he had more than the normal amount of ear infections? If so, your beloved pet may suffer from Allergic Dermatitis, or skin allergies, a chronic condition that brings many pets to Patton Chapel Animal Clinic.
T-lymphocytes are responsible for attacking cells in the body that have been contaminated with viruses or cancer. In cases of skin allergies, genetic alteration causes T-lymphocytes to over-react to normal parts of your pet’s environment- what he breaths, contacts on his skin, and even what he eats.
Pet Allergy Diagnosis
If you think your pet may have skin allergies, your veterinarian will first take steps to determine the trigger. There are many types of hypersensitivity in pets. If the dog’s symptoms are more related to a food allergy, which happens in about 10% of dog allergy cases, a food trial will be recommended. In this trial, pets will be fed a diet with one protein and one carbohydrate for 10 weeks. No other foods or treats are allowed during this time.
If symptoms disappear during the trial, food allergies are likely to blame. If they don’t disappear, a more common diagnosis among dogs and cats is atopic dermatitis, or atopy, a chronic inflammatory skin disorder brought on by common environmental allergens such as grass, mold, pollen, and even cigarette smoke.
Whether your pet has food allergies, atopy, or another type of hypersensitivity, if treatment for skin allergies is not started early, dogs and cats can have a much harder time battling this chronic disease. Pets with allergies are prone to recurrent skin, ear, and foot infections due to a change in their normal skin function. These infections need to be treated with antibiotics, which further compromises the pet’s natural immunity. While simple remedies may help alleviate the symptoms at first, the condition is likely to worsen over the lifespan of the pet, and those remedies will become less and less effective.
Allergy Testing and Vaccines
If your veterinarian thinks your pet may have allergies, he can refer you to a pet dermatologist for further testing and treatment. There are two ways to test a pet for atopic dermatitis: allergy skin testing or allergy blood testing. These tests help determine which allergens are causing reactions in the pet. From the results, a vaccine can be derived to help desensitize the pet to the allergens that were found to be problematic. Allergy vaccines are a much safer course to take with your dog or cat and are successful in about 75% of pets.
Other Treatments for Pet Allergies
Cyclosporine Therapy (Atopica, Novartis) is a treatment that prevents t-lymphocytes from overreacting to your pet’s allergic triggers. It works as well as vaccines. Apoquel is a new treatment for pruritis, or itching. It can be used as a short term treatment for flare ups and is also safe to use long term, which makes it a good alternative to steroids.
In addition to the above treatments, other products and medications can be administered to relieve your pet’s overall itchiness. They include:
• antihistamines combined with essential fatty acids
• anti-itch conditioners
• topical steroid sprays
• oral steroids in low doses to treat sporadic outbreaks
See your veterinarian for further information on these treatments in order to ensure proper dosages and overall safety for your individual pet.
Other Steps To Take If Your Pet Has Allergies
If you have a pet with allergies, there are other steps you can take to manage the disease.
Decrease your pet’s need to scratch. Use a flea control regularly to keep those nagging bites out of the picture. Bathe your pet regularly to clear the skin of allergens and prevent secondary infections. Also, make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise to alleviate obsessive licking of hot spots.
Change your pet’s diet. Even if you attempted a food trial and your pet was later diagnosed with atopy, allergic dogs tend to do better on grain free diets because they are lower in carbohydrates, which worsen inflammation.
Avoid common allergens in your pet’s environment. If you know what your dog or cat is allergic to through testing, then it’s easier to avoid those specific allergens. However, new allergies can still develop and cause problems for your pet. This is why you should do your best to keep your pet’s living environment clean, free of common allergens such as dust and mold.
• Keith Hnilica, DVM. (n.d.). Allergy Treatment in 10 Steps [Written paper]. Retrieved from Patton Chapel Animal Clinic.
• Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD. (2006, July 1) Canine allergic dermatitis: Pathogenesis, clinical signs, and diagnosis. Retrieved from http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/canine-allergic-dermatitis-pathogenesis-clinical-signs-and-diagnosis?id=&sk=&date=&%0A%09%09%09&pageID=2
• Race Foster, DVM. (n.d.) Allergies & Atopy in Cats. Retrieved from http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=1+2141&aid=502.
• Definition of a Lymphocyte (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=4220
• Dr. Karen Becker. (2013, July 1). Retrieved from http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2013/07/01/pet-allergies.aspx