Treating Skin Allergies in Pets
By Vesna Smedberg, RVT
Allergies can cause itchiness in dogs and cats. The most common allergies are flea, food and environmental (atopic). While we can’t cure allergies, our goal is to minimize the response and complications, such as itchiness, discomfort and infections. We have come a long way in the way we diagnose, treat and manage these quite common occurrences.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Flea allergy dermatitis is a reaction to fleas’ saliva. It’s one of the most common allergies veterinary hospitals see. Even indoor cats can be exposed to fleas, which are brought in via clothing or an animal guest.
The first step is to eliminate the fleas on your pet and in your home, and then place every pet in the household on flea-prevention products. A veterinarian can help you determine which products work best. She’ll also decide if your pet needs further treatment based on a physical examination.
RELATED: Prepare Your Pet for Flea Season
Even though you’ve killed off your pet’s fleas, that doesn’t mean you stopped the immune reaction and its symptoms, particularly itching. Excessive scratching can break your pet’s skin, exposing it to secondary bacterial and yeast infections. The most common treatment for flea allergy dermatitis is antihistamines or steroids.
Cat and dog food allergies are more difficult to diagnose accurately. There are a lot of misconceptions about pet food allergies and their causes. Grain allergies are much less common than chicken allergies. The most common ingredient in dog and cat food is chicken or chicken byproducts. Feeding your pets a less common protein source, such as fish or duck, is a good first step. If you feed your pets a limited-ingredient or hypoallergenic diet, make sure their treats don’t contain the ingredient you’re avoiding.
To determine which foods your pet is allergic to, the veterinarian will give you a feeding regimen and instruct you on how to observe any reactions. Changing your pet’s diet can be problematic, especially for cats. You shouldn’t force your cat to change to one particular food. Give her a few options instead.
Atopic dermatitis is usually the result of environmental exposure to pollen, mold, dust or mites. These allergens can cause reactions through skin contact (hair loss, inflamed skin, ear infections) or inhalation (asthma or difficulty breathing). Your veterinarian will review your pet’s history and look for clinical signs to determine the allergy’s cause(s). She might also do a blood and skin test to help pinpoint the specific agent and prescribe the best treatment course.
By managing your pet’s allergies, you’re helping him have a longer and better quality life.
READ ALSO: Spring Dog Health Tips