Dogs and cats can suffer from allergies to various things such as fleas, food or environmental allergens. Allergies in pets can be very frustrating, confusing, exhaustive and expensive over time. Allergies in pets are very different to what humans experience. While pets with mild allergies can experience sneezing and runny eyes and nose similar to people, most pets with allergies will actually suffer from itchy skin, paws and ears. This is an overview of the main types of allergies in pets as well as treatment options that are available.
There are three main categories of allergies in dogs: flea, food and environmental.
Fleas: Some dogs/cats can be allergic to the saliva in a flea bite and even one or two bites from a flea can set off a severe allergic response in very sensitive pets causing intense itching and hair loss.
Food: Dietary allergies are rare in cats and dogs but pets with this particular allergy are usually allergic to a protein source in the diet such as beef or chicken. Food allergies can cause itchy skin and recurrent ear and skin infections.
Environmental: This is one of the more common allergies seen in dogs and cats, especially in Florida. Allergens can include things like pollen from various plants, dust mites, mold spores, etc. These allergens are inhaled (not physically touched) and will cause mild to severe itching of the skin particularly on the feet and ears but can occur all over the body as well.
Treatment Options: There are multiple ways to manage allergies in pets from environmental changes to diet, medications and supplements. The best thing to do overall is to avoid the allergen if possible. If we know your pet has an allergy to fleas, then strict flea prevention may be all you need to do to avoid skin irritation and infection. For dietary allergies, we can easily avoid the triggering ingredient in the food once identified by feeding a prescription hypoallergenic diet. When it comes to environmental allergens, it can be very tricky and, in most cases, impossible to avoid the offending allergen since most are microscopic and abundant in Florida. For these pets, treatment options could include a combination of supplements such as fatty acids and probiotics, prescription diets that help support and fortify the skin barrier, routine medicated bathing and ear cleaning or other topical products such as mousses, creams and sprays.
In very rare cases in which the pet has very mild allergies, over the counter human allergy medications such as Benadryl or Zyrtec may help but a proper dose for each individual pet must be calculated by a veterinarian prior to administration. For most dogs and cats with environmental allergies, a prescription treatment is necessary and forms the base of any allergy management protocol. These staple treatments include things like oral medications and injections such as Apoquel, Cytopoint or Atopica. Cytopoint is a monoclonal antibody injection that is given to dogs every 4-6 weeks and blocks the urge to itch. Apoquel (for dogs) and Atopica (for dogs and cats) are daily medications that can be given to block the urge to itch or calm the immune system down so that the body does not overreact to allergens. These products have very few side effects and can make the world of difference for extremely allergic pets. Please ask us for more information if you think your pet could benefit from one of these products.
In extreme cases, a referral to a dermatologist may be necessary if other treatment options have not helped as much as we would like. A dermatologist will develop a diagnostic plan aimed at correctly identifying each individual allergen and will develop a treatment against those allergens if possible. This may include prescription diet trials, injectable allergy testing and vaccine development aimed at reducing the pet’s immune response to individual allergens.