Just like their human counterparts, many dogs and cats suffer from allergies. There are several types of allergies, including flea, environmental, and food allergies. An allergy occurs due to an over-reactivity or exaggerated response of the immune system to a substance called an allergen. An allergen is a protein that triggers this over-reactivity of your pet’s immune system.
The most common allergy in domestic animals is fleas. In allergic animals, fleabites can create intense itching and hair loss. Over-the-counter antihistamines can temporarily relieve symptoms of this nature. However, when severe itching occurs, (a condition known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis,) we strongly advise scheduling an examination with your veterinarian at Central Animal Hospital, because antihistamines or corticosteroids to block the allergic reaction only give short-term relief. In some cases, an antibiotic may even need to be prescribed, to address a secondary bacterial infection related to the allergic reaction and chronic scratching.
While flea allergies are the most common type, they are also the easiest to proactively treat: regular administration of a flea preventative can keep the fleabites at bay. It is important for all animals (even indoor only) to be on year-round flea prevention, as fleas can travel under doors and windows to look for their next blood source. There are several types of flea preventatives, including topical and oral medications. Many flea medications are formulated in combination with monthly heartworm and intestinal parasite prevention. To find out what flea preventative is best for your cat or dog, call our office or make an appointment online: our staff can help you pick the best flea preventative for your furry loved one, based on his or her lifestyle and specific care needs.
Environmental allergies are also extremely common in companion animals. The most frequent causes of environmental allergies are pollens, molds, and dust mites. Common symptoms of these allergies include localized (in one area) or generalized (all over) itchiness; licking or chewing of the paws; red eyes; and coughing, wheezing, or sneezing. Allergic reactions to environmental allergens aren’t necessarily seasonal: they can occur year-round.
Over-the-counter antihistamines like Benadryl and Zyrtec are frequently used by pet owners to relieve pets’ allergy symptoms. However, not all human allergy medications are safe for cats and dogs: those compounded with a decongestant, for example, are highly toxic to animals. (See the Dogington Post’s recent “Special Alert” article, “Common Allergy Medications That Area Poisoning Our Pets”) Before administering any sort of OTC antihistamine, we suggest consulting with a member of our medical staff to confirm that the type and dosage of medication that you’re giving is, indeed, safe for your cat or dog. (You can also email your inquiry about allergy treatments to your Central veterinarian by logging into your private Pet Portal.)
Fortunately for our furry-friends, food allergies are relatively uncommon. Signs that your pet may have a food allergy can mirror those of an environmental allergen, but they can also include digestive disorders, such as chronic vomiting or diarrhea, or recurrent conditions, such as chronic ear infections. Food allergies are often diagnosed when a pet does not respond to medical treatments commonly used to treat for environmental allergies.
If your veterinarian suspects that your pet has a food allergy, her or she will recommend switching your pet to a prescription elimination diet. An elimination diet means that for 8 weeks, your pet will have to exclusively eat a specially formulated, hypoallergenic pet food, and nothing else—including treats! If a positive response and improvement of your pet’s clinical signs occurs, then your veterinarian may recommend that your pet stay on this hypoallergenic food long-term and reintroduce treats gradually into their dietary regimen.
To determine whether pet’s medical symptoms are allergy-related, Central Animal Hospital offers allergy testing. To test for allergies, we obtain a small blood sample from your pet and send it off to our diagnostic laboratory. After approximately 4-6 weeks, the laboratory will return results that detail the allergens that may be affecting your pet. With this result, the lab will also recommend a specialized allergy serum that can desensitize your animal to their most troublesome allergens, providing lifelong relief. We then administer this prescribed treatment in the clinic over the course of several visits. It’s a simple and non-invasive treatment, but it can drastically improve your pet’s quality of life by providing relief from chronic discomfort. (And pet owners with pet insurance may find that your policy covers allergy testing and/or treatment!)
If you feel that your pet is exhibiting any signs of allergies, please schedule an allergy consultation with one of the veterinarians at Central Animal Hospital. We are well equipped to perform a vast array of diagnostics, and our clinic offers a variety of products for furry allergy sufferers, including prescription food and many topical and systemic medications to prevent and treat pets’ symptoms.