Spring is coming (thank goodness!) and I have had some requests to write a post about allergies. The truth is, in the canine world, there is no specified “season” for allergies. It is one of the most frustrating conditions to treat as a veterinarian and I’m about to show you why.
There are several different “categories” of allergies: environmental, food, flea, and contact. The most common type is environmental, or you may have heard it referred to as atopy or atopic dermatitis. Many pets have a combination of more than one category.
Clinical signs associated with environmental allergies commonly include redness and itching that manifests anywhere on the body. The condition is caused when the body launches an inappropriate immune response to attack the allergen. Basically, your pet’s immune system decides to produce and release inflammatory cells to attack and fight off harmless substances. The response actually causes more harm than the allergen by causing your pet’s skin to itch, turn red, lose hair, and sometimes even become infected.
There are different allergy tests available, each with its own positive and negative aspects (feel free to ask us if you’re curious about allergy testing). In general, allergy testing is performed most often when trying to “cure” the allergy rather than control it. The only CURE for an allergy is immunotherapy. I use the term cure loosely, because even if we pin-point exactly what allergy is affecting a pet and formulate a vaccine to desensitize them to it, only about 65% of pets will benefit and not all of them will be allergy free. This is not a feasible option for all clients, so we do what we can to control the environmental allergies instead.
As a veterinarian managing allergies, I focus on 3 things:
1. Controlling whatever allergens I can – Baths with hypoallergenic or even medicated shampoos help rinse off topical allergens like pollens and grasses. I usually encourage owners to wipe off feet especially in-between toes with medicated wipes after walking around outside.
2. Keeping the pet comfortable and itch free – As kids, our parents would always tell us not to scratch at rashes or bug bites. Unfortunately, our pets don’t listen as well as we did. We have to control the itching either with a physical barrier such as a cone, or medication to remove/decrease the itching sensation because the actual scratch is what causes harm to the body. We do this by utilizing medications such as anti-histamines, steroids, and immune modulators.
3. Treat conditions that exacerbate the allergy – pets with allergies are more prone to recurrent bacterial and yeast infections of the skin and ears. TREAT these conditions when they first occur and you will have a much easier time controlling them. FLEA CONTROL is also incredibly important. Many pets with allergies are especially sensitive to flea bites, even one bite can send them into a frenzy. Year-round flea prevention is ideal.
Bottom line: Allergies are frustrating no matter how you look at them, but we can make our furry friends much more comfortable by using a combination of therapies that we alter when necessary and having TONS OF PATIENCE!