Allergies commonly affect pets, and can be extremely problematic and difficult to control. Pet allergies can’t be prevented, but you can take steps to help alleviate your pet’s distress and discomfort. Our team at Southwest Vet wants to provide tips to help you better manage pet allergies.
#1: Ensure your pet receives year-round flea protection
Flea bite dermatitis is the most common pet allergy. A flea that bites your pet injects saliva, and many pets are allergic to a protein in the saliva, which results in excessively itchy skin. A bite from a lone flea can cause a significant reaction. Other signs include crusty skin lesions, excoriations from scratching, and hair loss, typically at the tail base. Finding fleas or flea dirt (i.e., flea excrement) on an itchy pet suggests a flea allergy, but the pet’s excessive grooming often removes all flea evidence. If your pet has a flea allergy, you must remove all fleas from their coat and their environment, which is best achieved by administering year-round flea protection. However, if your pet is affected, steps to remove fleas include:
- Bathing your pet — Bathe your pet to remove fleas from their coat, and then use a flea comb to ensure no parasites remain.
- Laundering your pet’s bedding — Thoroughly launder your pet’s bedding in hot water to remove fleas and flea eggs.
- Vacuuming your pet’s surroundings — Vacuum carpet and upholstery in your pet’s resting areas.
- Treat your home and lawn — Treat your home and lawn with an appropriate insecticide.
#2: Monitor your pet for itchiness and skin lesions
Allergies are best managed when diagnosed early. We need to evaluate your pet when they first start scratching, so we can start the diagnostic process to determine the cause of their itchy skin. If left untreated, your pet’s excessive scratching can lead to open wounds and skin infections, further complicating diagnosis and treatment.
#3: Monitor your pet for ear infections
Ear infections are a common sequelae to pet allergies, and can become chronic if the allergy is not managed appropriately, in turn causing complications such as hearing loss and neurological issues. You may be tempted to treat your pet at home, but they need a veterinary professional to ensure the infection is not caused by an underlying issue.
#4: Note when your pet’s signs occur
Seasonal signs can indicate that your pet has atopy, which is another name for environmental pet allergies. Allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander can cause your pet’s skin to be excessively itchy. Atopy typically affects your pet’s feet, face, ears, and skin folds, and most pets start exhibiting signs between 1 and 3 years of age. If we suspect atopy, we may place your pet on a glucocorticoid trial to see if their signs resolve. Atopy typically responds rapidly to glucocorticoid therapy, and we can perform allergy testing, which involves intradermal testing or a blood sample to determine the allergens causing your pet’s reaction, if your pet responds to the trial treatment. Treating atopic pets usually involves a multimodal approach, including:
- Hyposensitization therapy — Once we have performed allergy testing, we can use the data to make allergy shots. Your pet will receive gradually increasing allergen doses to desensitize them to the problematic substance. This treatment is considered the gold standard for managing atopy, and success rates up to 70% have been reported. However, many pets need several months before their signs reduce, and allergy shots are typically needed throughout the pet’s life.
- Corticosteroids — Corticosteroids are frequently used to address a severe reaction, but these medications are best used sparingly, at their lowest effective dosage, to prevent side effects.
- Anti-itch medications — Several anti-itch products that will help relieve your pet’s distress are available, and our veterinary professionals will determine an appropriate medication for your pet.
- Allergen removal — Bathing your pet weekly, and using a wet cloth to wipe down their fur and abdomen after being outdoors, can help remove allergens from their coat.
- Essential fatty acids (EFA) — EFA supplements can help moisturize your pet’s skin, and may have some anti-inflammatory effects.
#5: Do not change your pet’s food frequently
Some pet owners believe changing their pet’s food frequently can prevent food allergies, but this practice may result in gastrointestinal issues, and cause further problems if your pet develops a food allergy. Food allergic pets are usually reacting to a protein or carbohydrate in their food, commonly chicken, eggs, beef, dairy, and wheat, resulting in itchy skin and possibly gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea and chronic gas. When a food allergy is suspected in your pet, the best way to determine what is causing their reaction is a food elimination diet. This involves putting them on a diet that only has ingredients they’ve never eaten—which can be a challenge if your pet has been exposed to several different foods. Food allergies occur in only about 0.1% of cats and 0.2% of dogs, and flea allergies and atopy are much more common, so your pet will be placed on a food elimination diet only after a flea allergy has been eliminated and a glucocorticoid trial has been performed, since food allergies notoriously do not respond to glucocorticoid treatment.
Pet allergies can’t be prevented, but they can be managed, and we hope these tips help you manage your affected pet. If your pet is itchy or has an ear infection, contact our team at Southwest Vet, so we can identify the cause, and relieve their distress and discomfort.