Allergies in Dogs and Cats
An allergy is a state of over-reactivity or hypersensitivity of the immune system to a particular substance called an allergen. Most allergens are proteins. The allergen protein may be of insect, plant or animal origin. Initial exposure of the dog and cat, or more likely multiple exposures, to the allergen may over-sensitize the immune system, such that a subsequent exposure to the same or related allergen causes an over-reaction. This means that the immune response, which normally protects the animal against infection and disease, can actually be harmful to the body.
There are 3 major general allergy categories in dogs:
- Flea allergies: The very common parasite that causes severe and ongoing allergies in dogs and cats. Flea bites are painful and make your pet very itchy also can cause anemia and infection. They are hard to find when you try to look for them on your pet. In southern California fleas never go away due to our wheatear, grass and natural reservoirs (scrolls, outdoors cats, grass, etc.). Dogs and cats can develop tapeworms after eating fleas and can transmit tapeworms to humans especially kids. Proper monthly flea prevention is the key to keep fleas off your pet and your house. Unfortunately most of the over the counter flea medication (topical) are not effective and flea sprays and shampoos only work for a very short time (less than few hours because they won’t repel). Now we recommend proper oral monthly flea prevention. Indoors dogs and cats are not immune or protected against fleas and need monthly flea prevention.
- Food Allergy: Food allergy can develop to almost any protein or carbohydrate component of food. It most commonly develops in response to the protein of the food of a particular food origin; beef, pork, chicken, or turkey are commonly associated with food allergies. Feeding your pet table food especially foods containing gluten, dairy, spices and certain proteins can cause food allergy. Food allergy can develop at almost any age and may produce itching, skin and ear infection, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress. Food allergy may occur with other allergies, such as environment (inhalant) allergies. Treatment requires identifying the offending component(s) of the diet and eliminating them or starting the patient on special hypoallergenic diet. Because it takes 10-12 weeks for all other food products to be removed from the body, the dog must eat the special diet exclusively for 10 to 12 weeks. It must be emphasized that if the diet is not fed exclusively, it will not be a valid test. All table food, treats or vitamins must be discontinued during the testing period.
- Atopy or inhalant allergies: A simple way to think of atopy for pets would be simply saying that the pet inhales an airborne allergen but instead of sneezing and sniffling, the pet gets itchy skin and stars chewing and licking himself or herself. Atopy in dogs has an inherited predisposition and they show their allergic signs between 1 and 3 years of age. Due to the hereditary nature of the disease, several breeds, including golden retrievers, most terriers, Irish setters, Lhasa aps os, Dalmatians, bulldogs and Old English sheep dogs are more commonly atopic, but many dogs, including mixed breed dogs can have atopic dermatitis. The incidence is increasing both in man and animals. While it would be nice to have a blood test that could tell us if a pet’s itching is due to atopy, it is important to realize that such a test does not exist. Atopy remains a clinical diagnosis, which means the diagnosis is made based on history, examination findings and skin testing.
Proper monthly flea preventative, annual fecal testing are highly recommended for all indoor and outdoor pets. If your pet is chewing, biting itching him/herself needs to be seen by a licensed veterinarian. Please avoid giving human allergy relief medications as they could harm your pet.
At Beverly Robertson Veterinary Clinic, we will discuss your pet’s allergies and will make your furry one comfortable.