The Vet Is In: Pet Allergies

Dr. Marvin Ordway
By Dr. Marvin Ordway September 15, 2011 16:54

Dr. Ordway with pal Homer

Allergies are states of hypersensitivity, where the body’s immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance. They can be set off by insect bites, pollen, mold spores, mites, fabric, food and much more. Just as with people, allergies can wreak havoc on your pet’s skin, health and happy disposition.

Fleas are a common cause. Their bites cause redness and swelling, but their saliva causes even more pronounced inflammation. Not all dogs and cats are allergic to flea saliva, but some will scratch and tear wildly at the affected surface, leading to severe self-trauma and secondary infections.

If you live in lower elevations with higher humidity and your pet begins scratching, check for fleas first. If the flea has since left (cats are especially good at grooming them away), check for flea debris. If it turns rusty brown on a wet cotton swab, it’s flea excrement, and proof of the unwanted visitor.

Second among allergy culprits is “atopy.” This is an inherited predisposition for skin problems from airborne or other allergens, such as pollen, mold spores or house mites on bedding or carpets. Most pets aren’t bothered by these, but some animals with what amounts to an immune-system defect will scratch to the point of injury. Cats may over-groom themselves, “mowing” their hair across broad patches. Some dogs will develop “hot spots” and others recurrent ear infections. Other pets will get rashes or scab areas.

Food is another major allergy source. With dogs and cats, it’s usually due to some protein or carbohydrate which sensitizes a specific antibody in the pet’s blood. That antibody travels to the skin and causes the release of chemicals in the skin that result in redness and itching.

Cats with food allergies typically have head and neck inflammation, while dogs often get hot spots or ear infections, or may chew on their feet or rub their faces. That’s similar to what happens with atopy, making it difficult to detect the cause.

One test to rule out food allergy is to try a hypoallergenic diet involving a protein and carbohydrate that the animal typically doesn’t eat – venison and potato, for example, for eight to 16 weeks. If the itching resolves, the pet has a food allergy. Then, you reintroduce foods and begin to isolate the problem ingredients.

You are what you eat, and a better diet involves a better balance of fatty acids. Itching pets can be given supplemental Omega 3 fatty acids to help temper allergic responses. Most dogs 50 pounds or above can take one regular fish-oil capsule a day with no problem; for smaller animals, check with your vet.

Some allergies can be treated with antihistamines and/or topical treatment, but again, it depends on the root cause. Some pets with airborne allergies may need a special blood or skin test to determine what they are allergic to. Based on the test results, serums can be manufactured to help with desensitization.

Pet beds and carpets are many times a source for house mites and other irritating allergens. Washing bedding weekly in hot water can help. Many pets do better in houses without allergen-trapping carpet. Prednisone can help with seasonal allergies or acute episodes of itching. When secondary infections occur, antibiotics may also be required.

With airborne allergies, you can also look for ways to make your pet more comfortable. Bathing with special shampoos that don’t wash away essential oils, followed by a moisturizing rinse, can help ease a pet’s discomfort.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors

Dr. Marvin Ordway
By Dr. Marvin Ordway September 15, 2011 16:54