Chances are if you own a pet, your pet has experienced itching at some point during his/her lifetime. If you’re lucky, the problem was minor and temporary, however for many pet owners, the situation is much more frequent and severe. The most common cause for chronic scratching is allergies which include flea allergies, environmental allergies (atopy) and food allergies.
Flea Allergic Dermatitis
Flea allergic dermatitis is the most common skin disease in dogs and cats. It is important to understand that you may not see any fleas at all since it only takes a couple of flea bites to cause a skin reaction in flea allergic pets, so it is important that all pets be on year-round flea prevention.
Environmental Allergies (Atopy)
Atopy is an allergic condition from environmental allergens that include pollens, dust mites, dander, etc. Atopy usually begins early in a pet’s life and usually starts as seasonal. The diagnosis of atopy can be suspected based on clinical signs, however, can more accurately be diagnosed with either blood or intradermal skin testing. If it’s known what your pet is allergic to, reducing the exposure to the allergens can be helpful. With these test results, immunotherapy (allergy shots or oral therapy) can be started but can take 6-12 months before you see results. This is highly recommended since the effects are long lasting and may avoid or decrease the need for symptomatic treatment.
Food allergy is less common than you think. Contrary to popular belief, a change in diet is not necessary for development of food allergy and it can start at any age. Food ingredients most commonly responsible for allergies are beef, chicken, fish, eggs and milk. Food allergy is ruled out by feeding a novel diet consisting of very limited ingredients, or a hydrolyzed hypoallergenic diet that is made so that the protein particles are broken down too small for the body to recognize them as an allergen. A food trial is the only way to diagnose a food allergy and you should seek advice from your veterinarian before conducting your own food trial. Most over the counter and non-prescription diets are not adequate as truly limited ingredient or hypoallergenic diets.
Treatment is aimed at addressing the primary causes for the allergy. Treatment of secondary skin infections is addressed by the following depending on the infection:
- Fish oils
Corticosteroids (prednisone) are very effective at helping clinical signs but have side effects and should be used sparingly. There are two drugs particularly showing great promise in helping treat allergies. Each works differently to target itch receptors and break the itch cycle.
- Apoquel — a daily medication
- Cytopoint — an injection that can be given monthly.
Pet allergies can be confusing and frustrating. The most important thing to remember is that allergies are very complex and, in most cases, can be managed but not cured. Finding the right combination of treatments sometimes takes a lot of trial and error and can take a long time. Be prepared that your pet’s allergy is going to require ongoing care. Communication with your veterinarian is important to allow them to help you and your pet find the right diagnosis and treatment plan.