This is such a common complaint I hear but I am here to help! Allergies are the body’s immune system overreacting to certain normal stimuli which causes itchiness and changes to your animal’s skin and coat. Most allergies are not able to be cured and are a lifelong condition that will need to be managed, which can be frustrating but if approached thoughtfully, management can be extremely effective. These conditions can range from mild to severe and treatment depends not only on cause of the allergy but also severity of signs. Allergies in animals can be divided into 4 categories:
• Atopy (environmental allergens)
• Contact Dermatitis
• Food allergy
• Flea allergy Dermatitis
Atopy is the most common cause of allergies and is a complex disease that involves the immune
system, an abnormal skin barrier and increased skin infections. All factors need to be addressed
for effective control. There is an underlying genetic component so we tend to see certain breeds
such as German Shepherds, Staffordshire bull terriers and Labradors more commonly. It is similar to hay fever and allergens can include pollens and dust mites. The clinical signs usually present within 6 months to 3 years of age and are similar to food allergies including the paws, face, ears, eyes and bottom. Once diagnosed, therapy includes regular bathing and often medication either long term or intermittently. Immunotherapy or desensitizing vaccines can be individually made for your pet to try and achieve a cure which is seen in up to 70% of animals.
If your pet is itchy or you suspect any of the above conditions, have a chat with your vet who can tailor an individual diagnostic and treatment plan for your pet if required. It may be the difference in getting a good night’s sleep for both of you!
All allergies cause itchiness which is seen by animals scratching or biting, and inflammation or redness of the skin, which makes it hard to determine the cause. It can lead to secondary skin infections which makes the animal quite unwell if not treated. We must remember however, the allergy is the underlying cause and without effective management your pet will continue to have issues arise.
Flea allergy Dermatitis
The most common flea in Australia is the Ctenocephalides felis or the cat flea which bites cats, dogs and also humans. It is a hypersensitivity to the saliva of the flea, which is injected into the skin of your pet while the flea feeds. A large inflammatory response occurs which is disproportionate to the number of fleas your animal may have. Fleas tend to originate in certain areas such as the base of the tail and thighs but can extend over the body if left untreated. With the effective parasite protection available these days, we tend to see fewer cases. Please ensure all pets in the household are up to date with parasite protection year round to minimize exposure and treat the surrounding environment.
This type of allergy requires direct contact with the skin and the offending substance. Most commonly contact allergens include flora such as grasses, ‘Wandering Jew’ and ‘Moses in the Cradle’, however it can also be caused by certain chemicals. Because direct contact is needed, we usually see changes to the skin in contact with ground surfaces such as the bottom of the feet and stomach. Managing this condition involves removing access to the allergic substance but this is not always possible. In these cases certain shampoos can provide relief, decreasing allergens on the skin, however often veterinary attention is required. T-shirts or bodysuits can also be used to prevent contact with allergic surfaces.
Food allergies are abnormal reactions to a component of your pets food, most commonly a protein they have been previously exposed to like beef or chicken. It is the most uncommon cause of pet allergies, representing less than 1% of dog and 6% of cat skin conditions. Clinical signs include general itching and redness of the skin but can also include changes to their ears, eyes and sometimes gut irritation. The only way to diagnose this condition is to perform a food elimination diet for a minimum of 6 weeks and challenge it (under the guidance of your veterinarian). Blood and skin tests are not reliable. Diet trials can at times be frustrating, and sometimes need to be repeated, however, once a diagnosis is made management is as simple as choosing the right foods to feed your pet.