Springtime can be lovely, but if your pets have allergies, this season can also be very uncomfortable for them. Just as with people who have hay fever or other allergies, your pet’s immune system can overreact and become hypersensitive to a particular substance, causing itchy skin and unwanted responses. The good news is that there are a variety of treatments to remove your pet’s discomfort.
Pets can have allergies to the same things people do: food or things they come in contact with; but the most common pet allergy is to things they breathe in (called atopy). These inhalant allergens can be anything from plant pollens to household dust — and even human dander. Seasonal itchiness from atopy usually begins between when a dog is between the ages of one and three.
The signs are just what you would expect: rashes, itching, ear infections, sneezing, coughing, even gastrointestinal problems. Suffering pets often lick, chew and scratch the area of their body that is in discomfort, staining the fur. This can help us diagnose the problem, but sometimes allergy testing is needed to pinpoint it more precisely. Many veterinarians have blood testing available for pet allergies. This test checks for the overproduction of antibodies to a particular substance. A pet dermatologist can also perform specific intradermal skin testing. When pets have secondary skin infections, a vet may need to perform skin scrapes, cytology and cultures of the skin. If underlying problems which predispose your pet to allergies are suspected, a general blood panel can be performed.
Since pets (and people) usually cannot avoid contact with inhalant allergens completely, many pets are given treatments and medications. In the past, standard medications were steroids. Today, we try to avoid the use of steroids. They can be effective and inexpensive, but can also weaken the immune system, affect other organ systems and cause a pet to drink and urinate more. Some pets may respond to antihistamines, but most do not respond well to these. Using medicated shampoos and topical treatments can be very beneficial in decreasing the number of medications needed. Any bathing helps remove allergens from the fur and reduces allergen exposure; plus, tepid water is soothing to itchy skin. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements also may help.
The most common treatment now for pet allergies is with the use of antibodies to block an inflammatory cytokine. This medication is called Cytopoint or CADI. Injections provide relief from itching for four to eight weeks in 80 percent of dogs, and show effectiveness usually within 24 hours of injection. For more details, visit cytopoint4dogs.com. It is the safest treatment now available.
If your pet has a secondary infection, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or medications to treat a yeast infection on the skin or in the ears. Allergy testing can allow a lab to create an allergen treatment set to try to desensitize your pet to the allergy.
If a pet has a year-round allergy, it might be a food allergy, so some are placed on a special diet to see if they respond. Note that a pet should not just be changed to a grain-free diet. Recently, it has been found that some pets on grain-free diets can develop heart disease. Research is still ongoing to find the cause. And, of course, flea control is always recommended for pets.
Itchy skin has been a problem for people and pets for a long time. We now have more understanding and many tools to address the symptoms. If you have a pet with skin or ear irritation, or other signs of allergic reaction, contact your veterinarian for assistance so your pet can enjoy the spring season like we do — itch-free.