Spring has Sprung but so has Pet Allergies
By Dr. Lindsay Laird
It’s that time of year again the flowers are blooming, the weather is warmer , people are sneezing, and pets are itching. Spring is definitely here and unfortunately that means allergy season has arrived as well. In people, seasonal allergies tend to manifest as sneezing, nasal discharge, and itchy, watery eyes. While allergies can present this way in pets as well, more often our furry friends become itchy. The itching can be generalized or limited to specific areas of the body like the feet, ears, or belly. Dogs with allergies are more prone to skin infections as well. Skin that is inflamed and irritated is not as good a protective barrier as it should be. This can allow bacteria and yeast naturally found on the skin to multiply leading to infection. Other pathogens can also be introduced through licking and scratching. Infections tend to only exacerbate itching and create a vicious cycle. Overall, allergies can be frustrating for both pets and owners, but don’t worry the vets at Arnold Pet Station are here to help!
If you’re noticing your pet scratching or licking more than just occasionally and/or you’re seeing evidence of skin infection (redness, hair loss, crusting) it’s best to make an appointment with your veterinarian. The first thing the vet will do is take a detailed history to see if there have been any changes in food, treats, or the pet’s environment that may be triggering an allergy flare up. They will likely ask about exposure to other animals, recent swimming or bathing, and what type of flea and tick preventative your pet is on as well. This is to rule out other causes of itching and skin infections. Next, the doctor will do a thorough exam of your pet paying careful attention to the skin, ears, and feet. We are looking for hair loss, redness, lesions, and evidence of parasites like fleas. Depending on your pet’s history and exam findings the vet may recommend further testing. This may include skin scrapings to check for mange, microscopic examination of swabs of the skin checking for yeast and bacteria, or a fungal culture to rule out ringworm. Blood work may also be recommended to rule out hormonal imbalances like a thyroid condition or Cushings disease that can contribute to skin issues. Depending on your pet’s age and other health issues bloodwork may determine whether or not certain medications are safe for your pet. These additional tests help us to better determine the cause of your pet’s symptoms and thus the best way to treat them.
Allergies are often a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning first we have to rule out other causes of itching. Once we have decided your pet is likely suffering from allergies there are a wide variety of treatments available. If your pet’s itching is mild to moderate an antihistamine may be able to control their symptoms. These can be prescription or over the counter medication. Never give your pet anything over the counter without discussing it with your vet first. If you are advised to pick up something at your local pharmacy make sure to have the doctor write down the exact medication and dosage your pet needs. Do not make substitutions and be sure there are no additives such as decongestants which can be harmful to dogs and cats. A topical steroid spray may also be used for mild-moderate localized itching and inflammation.
If your pet is itching constantly or is very uncomfortable, a stronger medication may be recommended. Steroids are often used to treat allergies especially if the skin is very inflamed. In addition to being anti-inflammatory steroids suppress the immune response that causes itching. However, steroids should really only be used temporarily as they have the potential to cause serious side effects. Steroids also cannot be used if your pet has certain medical conditions such a diabetes.
Apoquel is a newer medication that works to suppress the immune response that causes itching. However, Apoquel does not cause the excessive drinking, urination, panting, and weight gain that can often be seen with steroids. This medication can be used long term, which could mean all of allergy season or even year round. We recommend blood work monitoring with Apoquel if it is used long term.
Cytopoint is a new, long acting injection for itching. Your veterinarian administers the shot which lasts 4-8 weeks and can be repeated as often as every 4 weeks. Cytopoint attaches to and neutralizes the proteins that trigger itching.
An allergy blood test is available to determine what environmental allergens your pet may be reacting to. This test is usually done in order to formulate allergy injections or oral allergy serum. Both of these can be done at home by the owner and must be done long term. It can take up to a year to see the full effects of this treatment. This is usually used in animals whose allergy symptoms are year round or who are having frequent flare ups throughout the year.
All of the above treatments are for itching. If your pet also has a skin infection he/or she will be treated with antibiotics and/or antifungals as well. These may be oral or topical in the form of sprays, shampoos, or mousse.
An e-collar or cone can be helpful to keep your pet from further traumatizing their skin especially if you can’t get to the vet right away.
Allergies can be very stressful to deal with and sometimes difficult to diagnose, but at Arnold Pet Station we are very familiar with this condition and have many treatment options. If you suspect your pet is suffering from allergies please give us a call!
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