This month’s topic is allergies. So many of our patients are affected that it was hard to select just one “case of the month.” The most common types we see here are atopy (inhalant allergies), food, and flea. The diagnosis can be difficult, especially since some patients have multiple reactions.
An allergy occurs because the body’s immune system reacts to a foreign agent (antigen) by producing antibodies. Then any time the animal encounters the antigen, there is a reaction. The response most commonly manifests as skin related problems, with itching and secondary bacterial infections. In some cases the symptoms involve the respiratory system, with coughing, sneezing, and/or wheezing. Sometimes the digestive system is affected, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea.
The diagnosis can be difficult, especially since some animals can suffer from multiple allergies, including food, environmental exposures, and fleas:
Allergies to Food
The reaction to food involves an over-reactivity to one of the proteins or carbohydrates in the diet. This can be to beef, chicken, lamb, dairy products, wheat gluten, or soy for example. The only way to address the problem is to offer a diet of “novel” ingredients, meaning items to which the animal has never been exposed to previously. These days, this can be difficult, as many commercial pet foods include multiple protein and carbohydrate sources. We are losing our ammunition, so to speak. We recommend a trial diet for at least 6-8 weeks.
Allergies to the Environment
(photo courtesy of Carter County Animal Hospital)
Inhalant allergies (those acquired simply through breathing) can come from almost anything in the environment. Pollens (tree, grass, weeds), molds, dust mites, and even human dander can create problems for the atopic pet. Obviously, we are not able to prevent exposure to these allergens. Treatment may involve antihistamines, corticosteroids, shampoo therapy, and other topicals. The offending agents can be identified by allergy testing, and hyposensitization therapy can be initiated.
Allergies to Fleas
(Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists)
Flea allergies are probably the easiest responses to address. The reaction is actually to the saliva of the insect, and only one bite can cause itching for days. Control can be very effective with newer flea elimination products Keep in mind that the pet’s environment needs to be treated as well, since the flea only spends a short amount of time actually on the animal.
Got Pet Allergies? Give us a Call!
We recognize that treating your pet’s allergies is frustrating. The diagnosis as well as appropriate control can take months. Because the issues are so common in veterinary medicine, much research is ongoing, and newer therapies are on the horizon. In the meantime, we are here to help!