Allergies and Your Pet

Pet allergiesIs your dog or cat suffering from recurrent ear infections, skin infections, rashes, itching, foot licking, or diarrhea?   If so, your pet may be suffering from an allergy.  Allergies are common in Florida, with our year around warmth, humidity and multiple blooming seasons.

Below are some of the more common Allergy Symptoms.  Pets with allergies may have one or more of these problems.

• Excessive Scratching, Chewing or Licking
• Red or Raw Skin Areas
• Loss of Hair
• Recurrent Skin Infections
• Foot Licking or Chewing
• Pawing at Ears
• Head Shaking
• Chronic or Recurrent Ear Infections
• Coughing or Wheezing
• Sneezing

If your pet suffers from any of the symptoms above, allergies could be the cause.

Allergy Treatment falls into three basic categories:

• Medications to Relieve Symptoms and Correct for Secondary Changes
• Avoidance of Allergens
• Hyposensitization

In many cases, pets who have mild or occasional allergy symptoms are best treated by establishing a routine of medications to simply relieve the symptoms.  These pets are medicated only when the allergic symptoms are occurring.  This is especially effective for allergies than respond well to antihistamines, fatty acid supplements and medicated shampoos.  In these cases, treating the allergic symptoms is simpler, less expensive and often more effective than pursuing a detailed diagnosis and more specific treatment.

For allergies that are more severe, more persistent or which involve stomach or intestinal symptoms diagnosis of the cause should be pursued.

Allergies fall into four types, each of which requires a different approach to diagnosis and treatment:

Insect Hypersensitivity - most commonly Flea Allergy

  • Inhalant Allergy (Atopy)
  • Food Allergy
  • Contact Allergy

If your dog displays any of the dog allergy symptoms referred to above, contact us for an appointment and allergy evaluation.  As with all complicated and challenging medical conditions, there are many treatment options which we can tailor to your needs and those of your pet.

Flea Allergy

Most Florida Dogs and Cats get at least an occasional flea-bite.  Because flea saliva from the bites is highly allergenic, somewhere between 75% to 90% of animals that have any other type of allergy are also allergic to fleas.  The itch response to fleas is also harder to control with medication than the itch produced by inhaled allergens.  This makes flea control essential to controlling allergic skin disease.  If we attempt to remove other causes of allergic skin disease from the environment but the pet is still being exposed to fleas, the allergy symptoms will not resolve.  One clue to flea allergy is the pet who itches mostly over the back half of its body, especially the rump and tail-base.  While fleas may cause itching elsewhere, animals with this pattern of itching must be suspected of flea allergy even if the owner is not seeing fleas on the pet.

Food Allergy

Food Allergy is an allergic response to proteins in the animal's diet.
Dogs and cats with Food Allergy may have diarrhea or they may have skin or ear symptoms.
Pets are not born with Food Allergy, but become sensitized by exposure.  Food Allergy does often develop early in life; frequently at under one year of age.
Changing from one pet store or grocery store diet to another, may, but is not likely to resolve the problem.  Many foods contain related protein sources.  If your pet is sensitive to one of these proteins, changing food may still leave him/her exposed to the protein that he/she is allergic to.

Because most allergies are responses to food proteins in the diet, quality is not a factor in resolving allergies, although a good quality diet is important for many other reasons.  An easy way to understand this is to think of the person who is allergic to strawberries (a common human allergy).  That person will be allergic to fresh organically grown strawberries, old rotten strawberries and chemically fertilized strawberries.  It is the protein in the berry that is causing the problem.  For this reason, changing your pet to a natural diet, or a better quality diet is not likely to resolve the allergy unless the diet also does not contain the ingredient to which the pet is allergic.

Although Food Allergy is less common than Inhalant (pollen and mold) Allergy, it is much less costly to investigate and is usually tested for before testing for inhalant allergens (although both can be done at the same time).

A food allergy test requires that your pet be on a specially formulated diet, prescribed by your veterinarian for a period of eight to twelve weeks.  If the pet's symptoms improve during the test period, food allergy is likely.

Inhalant Allergy

Like humans, dogs also suffer from allergies to pollen (hay fever), dust mites, mold and mildew.   Aside from flea allergy, inhalant allergy (or Atopy) is the most common allergy diagnosed in our area.  Respiratory signs such as sneezing and coughing may occur in pets but the most common symptoms are skin and ear itching.  The itching may also be accompanied (as with other allergies) by skin or ear infections.

Often animals with inhalant allergies are allergic to more than one allergen.  It is not uncommon when allergy testing to find that the pet is allergic to multiple types of molds, pollens and mite particles.

Some clues to inhalant allergies:

Seasonal symptoms reoccurring at about the same time of year from year to year are likely to be  inhalant allergies; although some inhalant allergic pets itch all year around.
Pets that itch more when the vacuum cleaner has been run may have dust mite allergies
Pets whose allergic symptoms are controlled by antihistamines alone are often inhalant allergies.

Diagnosis of inhalant allergies requires allergy testing.  This may be done in one of two ways. We may refer you and your pet to a dermatology specialist for intradermal (skin testing), in which solutions of allergens are injected into the skin in a grid pattern and responses are measured. We also may test you pet by submitting a blood sample for analysis of antibodies against various allergens.  For this testing we use the excellent services of Greer Laboratories.

Treatment of Inhalant Allergies takes two forms:

Avoidance may be accomplished with a few items such as molds and dust mite particles.
Hyposensitization (Immunotherapy), which involves having a laboratory make up a liquid extract of the primary allergens causing the pet's problems, then giving injections of this extract at gradually increasing dosage to desensitize the pet.

Contact Allergy

Contact allergy is a response to skin contact with a substance to which the pet is allergic.  These may include, wool from blankets, plant materials (especially some of the mulches and groundcover vines), plastic food dishes and some collars.  Some cleaning agents used on carpeting or floors may also be the cause.

The itch from contact allergy is usually more severe than inhalant allergy and is in the area contacted; often the bottoms of feet, underside of the body and chin.

Diagnosis of Contact Allergy is usually by eliminating the pet's contact with the suspected agent and watching for the symptoms to resolve.

Likewise, treatment of Contact Allergy is primarily by avoidance and by use of medications to alleviate symptoms when they occur.

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      Dr.Clark is always a pleasure to see! He treats our Lola with so much love and respect. English Bulldogs are a particularly special breed with many specific medical ailments, and I believe he truly understands her and the breed itself. He never rushes us, and always answers all of our questions! One of the best Vetenarian Doctors we have ever had and we always recommend him to everyone. Also, the staff there is always super friendly and loves to see Lola :-) Thank you!!

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