By Dr. Laura Gaylord, DVM
There is nothing more frustrating than any itchy pet! Persistent chewing and scratching can result in open sores, hair loss, and sleepless nights!
What Are Allergies?
An allergy is a state of hypersensitivity in which exposure to a harmless substance elicits an overreaction from the body’s immune system. The incidence of allergies is increasing in both humans and pets. People with allergies tend to sneeze, have watery eyes, or a runny nose. Dogs rarely have respiratory signs, and instead experience the effects of allergies in their skin. This can be seen as redness, itching, recurring skin or ear infections, and hair loss. Cats may also have these signs, but can develop a respiratory version as well, more commonly referred to as asthma or chronic bronchitis.
What Types of Allergies Are There?
The major categories of allergies in dogs and cats are flea, environmental, and food. Flea allergic dermatitis is by far the most common skin allergy, and 100% flea control is essential in all cases of allergic dermatitis. Since the allergen is the flea saliva, it is possible to never see the flea, yet still have symptoms.
The next largest group of allergies includes environmental allergies including hypersensitivities to the pollens of weeds, grasses and trees, as well as house dust mites and mold spores. Diagnosis is made by intradermal skin testing or by blood testing. A “vaccine” may be developed to decrease a pet’s sensitivity.
Lastly, pets may develop specific hypersensitivity to components of the diet, which are most often a major protein source, and less often, a carbohydrate. This could be beef, chicken, pork, egg, wheat, corn, or soy. A strict diet trial on a prescription diet is often required to properly diagnose a food allergy.
Can Allergies in Dogs and Cats be Cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies in dogs and cats, and this is a life-long problem. We can, however, greatly improve quality of life by formulating the best program to diagnose the cause if possible and manage the symptoms. This may include bathing or other topical therapies, medications for itching or secondary skin infections, and dietary therapies or supplements.