APRIL 18, 2012
Animals and allergies
With the emergence of springtime, comes the arrival of allergies. Although the landscape is lush, many people experience the beauty that comes with the warmer weather as well as the bothersome allergy symptoms. Pets can also be affected by allergies and it is important to be mindful of any symptoms that your pet might be displaying.
“People sneeze and wheeze with allergies, while dogs tend to itch and scratch,” says Dr. Adam Patterson, clinical assistant professor and a board certified dermatologist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “The hallmark sign of allergic skin disease is itch that can be manifested as licking, chewing, rubbing, biting, scooting, head shaking, and/or scratching. Typically, the face, ears, paws, armpits, groin, and rump are the most affected sites.”
Patterson explains that animals with allergic skin disease are highly prone to recurring skin and/or ear infections involving bacteria and yeast. Infections can cause increased itch, redness, pimples, blackheads, scabs, dander, hair loss, skin thickening, and odor. Horses many times will break out in hives.
“Animals tend to be allergic to many of the same things people are hypersensitive to such as pollen, mold, dust, house dust mite, and foodstuffs,” Patterson explains. “An exception would be fleas - the most common thing dogs and cats are allergic to. Despite this, many people are in 'fleanial' and refuse to believe just a few flea bites can be triggering the itch response in their pet.” Likewise, horse owners may not be aware how just a few insect bites could be responsible for or contributing to itchy skin disease.
Allergic skin disease can be mistaken for many other forms of skin disease. A veterinary dermatologist is trained to work with primary care veterinarians to get down to the bottom of how to best diagnose and manage skin and ear disease, including allergies, in animals.
See www.acvd.org for more information.
It is important to understand that allergies can be managed, but not cured, just as with humans. The goal is to reduce the extent and severity of signs, not completely eliminate them.
Management regimens might include increased frequency of bathing (washing pollens of the skin surface), antimicrobials or antibiotics, flea prevention, fatty acids, antihistamines, change in diet, steroids, and immunotherapy, also known as desensitization or hyposensitization. The use of the latter can be determined through a good step-wise diagnostic approach along with allergy skin testing and administered by way of allergy shots or oral allergy drops,” says Patterson.
When it is time to take your pet in for allergy skin testing?
“Typically, dogs should have allergy symptoms for at least 5-6 months out of the year before considering skin testing for environmental allergies, which include reactivity to pollen, molds, house dust mite, and house dust, in order for the diagnostic tests and treatment to be cost effective over the long haul,” Patterson recommends.
Patterson explains that rainfall cuts down on airborne pollen and may provide itch relief to pets, but at the same time rain may cause plants to produce more pollen over the next few weeks. Indeed, rain fall might worsen flea and mold allergies because moisture and humidity are favorable to fleas and mold. Of course, rain has no effect on food-related allergic skin diseases.
“Given the mild winter and lack of national weather fronts during the 2011-2012 seasons, pollen is likely to be at an all-time high this year. Consequently, there likely will be many itchy pets this year,” says Patterson.
Allergies are certainly not an uncommon thing to see in pets. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and to notify a veterinarian when they persist. For more information please visit vetmed.tamu.edu/large-animal-hospital/dermatology/allergies.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.