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Allergies in Our Pets

One of the most common reasons we see patients is due to allergies and complications from those allergies. An allergy is an over-reactive response or a hypersensitivity of the immune system to an allergen. There are several types of allergies that can affect our pets:

1. Flea Allergy- An exaggerated inflammatory response to a flea bite, the flea saliva is the most common allergen. Most pets experience minor irritation from flea bites but an allergic animal will react to a single bite with severe local itching. It will bite and scratch itself and may remove large amounts of hair, especially in the tail-base region. A secondary bacterial infection may occur in the broken skin. The area most commonly involved is over the rump in the tail-base region and the hind limbs. Treatment generally includes giving a flea prevention every month. If needed we may prescribe an oral antibiotic to treat a secondary infection and possibly an antihistamine and short term anti-inflammatory to reduce your pet’s itchiness and discomfort.

2. Environmental Allergy- The main environmental allergens are tree, grass and weed pollens, as well as molds, mildew, and house dust mites. Many of these allergies occur seasonally, such as ragweed, cedar, and grass pollens. However, others such as molds, mildew, and house dust mites are year-round. When humans inhale these allergens, the allergy manifests mainly with respiratory signs or “hay fever” – runny eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. But in our pets the result is very itchy skin (pruritis). You may see hair loss, excessive scratching, licking and face rubbing. Most pets that have environmental allergies start showing signs between one and three years of age. Affected animals will often react to several allergens. These allergies can be treated with immunotherapy (allergy injections) as well as antihistamines, essential fatty acids, medicated baths and medications that work to block the body’s itch response, but a permanent cure is not usually possible.

3. Contact Allergy- Contact allergy is the least common type of allergy in pets. It results from direct contact to allergens contained in flea collars, chemicals in the lawn or the grasses themselves and bedding. If a dog or cat is allergic to these substances, there will be skin irritation and itching at the points of contact, usually the feet and stomach. Removal of the allergen (once it can be identified) often solves the problem. In some cases we may need to bathe the patient to rinse the substance off.

4. Food Allergy-Food allergy can develop to almost any protein or carbohydrate component of food, but it most commonly develops in response to the protein portion of the food. Beef, pork, chicken and turkey are commonly associated with food allergies. Food allergy can develop at almost any age. With a food allergy your pet may have itching, digestive disorders or respiratory disorders. Food allergy may occur with other allergies concurrently. Treatment for food allergies begins with an elimination food trial. We will recommend a special hypoallergenic diet to feed to your pet for the next 8-12 weeks to see if your pet’s allergies are due to a true food allergy. If your pet responds well to the diet then we will likely continue them on a hypoallergenic diet for the rest of their life.