Thursday, August 21, 2014

Allergies in the dog and cat. What to do?

Allergies in the dog and cat. What to do?

Is your dog or cat chewing, licking, sneezing, itching, red skin, wheezing, or coughing? The possibility is present that your pet may be suffering from allergies.

Dogs and cats, just like humans, can have allergies. More than 30% of all skin irritations in these animals can be attributed to allergies.

What Are Allergies?

An allergic reaction is one in which an individual reacts to a normal substance in the environment in an abnormal way. These substances are called allergens and include pollen, molds, animal hair, house dust, fleas, foods and many other proteins. Allergen cause reactions through skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion. Allergic animals posses IgE antibodies to specific allergens.  These antibodies cause a specific biochemical change in the body which produce allergic symptoms.

How Does A Pet Show Signs Of Allergy?

In dogs, it is common to show signs of skin irritation with intense itching. Cats often show more signs of respiratory distress. In humans, the classic signs of allergies are nasal and respiratory. Each species react differently, but all species react in some manner.

Why Are My Pet's Allergies Worse Some Times Than others?

Allergens are cumulative in their effect on animals. It's like piling twenty bricks on top of each other. The more allergens an animal is exposed to at any one time, the more chance you will see symptoms.

The easiest way to picture this "threshold effect" is to think of drops of water filling in a bucket. Sooner or later the bucket will overflow much as the immune system "overflows" above its threshold. A pet with food and pollen allergies may only show symptoms  in the summer when the pollen count is the highest.

How Can My Pet's Allergies Be Diagnosed?

After a complete examination, your veterinarian will decide if your pet is a candidate for allergy testing. A simple blood test mailed to an allergy testing lab will give you answers about your pet's allergies that you couldn't guess about in your pet's lifetime.

What About Treatment?

The best form of treatment is avoidance. It's one thing to not feed your pet milk products, it's another to cut down all maple trees within a twenty mile area of your house.

Steroids can be used on a short term basis for relief, but allergy shots will give your pet long term treatment in most cases. This treatment is called hypo- sensitization.

In my experience, allergy shots usually take 6 to 9 months to work. Once the pet is desensitized, by maintaining the monthly shots, reaction to allergies can be reduced or eliminated. Desensitizing of course, reduces or eliminated the need for steroids, or visits to the veterinarian because your pet is itching.

What About Food Allergies?

We cannot hyposensitize dogs or cats to food, elimination is the only form of treatment. Therefore, avoidance is the only treatment. Fortunately, most labs will give you a list of "safe" foods.

The Providence Veterinary Hospital Blog is a publication of Peter Herman, VMD, at the Providence Veterinary Hospital, 2400 Providence Ave. in Chester, PA. Contact Dr. Herman at 610-872-4000 or visit us at