Does your pet scratch a lot, lick, and chew at his feet, have red irritated skin or recurrent ear infections? If so, allergies may be to blame and should not be ignored. An allergy is a hypersensitivity or an exaggerated immune response to a typically harmless substance. Allergies are one of the more frustrating ailments to deal with because they are controlled rather than cured and usually require lifelong treatment.
Animals most commonly have a flea allergy, environmental allergies and/or food allergies. However, many allergy-prone dogs are not only sensitive to a single allergen and can have an additive effect making it very difficult to pinpoint a specific cause.
Fleas will cause all animals some degree of irritation, however, about 30% of dogs and cats have a flea allergy. This means that in addition to the normal irritation caused by bug bites, their skin also has an allergic reaction to the flea saliva causing increased inflammation and itchiness. Skin can become red and bumpy, and there may be hair loss, most commonly on the back towards the tail. Flea prevention is the key to controlling flea allergies. Animals with allergies appear to do best on a high quality oral flea preventive rather than a topical product. It is important to continue treatment year-round as fleas continue to live on wildlife which can act as a continual source of infection for your pet.
Environmental allergies typically occur seasonally. In North Carolina they are worst in spring and fall. If environmental allergies are suspected, you may want to consider allergy testing to help to identify which allergens are contributing most to these reactions so that exposure can be minimized and desensitization therapy can be started. Desensitization therapy involves a series of injections of a suspension containing the offending allergens at low concentrations. Repeated exposure eventually decreases the allergic response. Allergy injections have about a 75% success rate at reducing the allergic response. Although there is a significant cost upfront, over the lifetime of the pet desensitization therapy often proves advantageous compared to repeated veterinary visits and medication. If allergy testing is not the right choice for your pet, there are some oral and injectable medications that can control symptoms. Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Claritin may be helpful, but, are often not effective enough at eliminating the need for other interventions.
Food allergies are more likely seen year-round. Animals are most commonly sensitive to specific proteins found in one of the multiple ingredients in the food. If a food allergy is suspected, a food trial on a hypoallergenic food should be conducted. Food trials can be difficult to conduct because it requires that the animal receive nothing but a specific food for 6-8 weeks before results can be determined. One bite of anything else could reset the whole trial. Grain-free diets will not necessarily help an animal with food allergies as there are many sources of protein other than grain. Organic and Non-GMO certifications are also not required for animals with food allergies but may be preferred by the owner. Allergy testing is not a reliable way to diagnose food allergies.
Animals suffering from allergies often develop secondary bacterial or fungal infections that need to be treated as well.
If you think your pet may be suffering from an allergy problem, the first step is getting them examined by a veterinarian. They will discuss possible testing and treatment options tailored for the individual animal.