Allergies do not only affect humans—they are also common in dogs and cats. Symptoms of allergies in dogs and cats consist of mild to severe itching and chewing of the skin, especially of the face, feet and ears. This often results in skin irritation and inflammation, crusting, scabbing, hair loss, as well as hot spots and hives. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections of the skin and ears are also common. Some pets develop upper respiratory symptoms such as sneezing or inflamed, red eyes with discharge. Cats may develop raised lesions on their skin known as plaques or granulomas, as well as large ulcers on their lips known as rodent ulcers.
The four major types of allergies in dogs and cats are flea, food sensitivity, contact, and airborne allergies (atopy). All of these allergies lead to your pet's excessive release of histamine and enhanced body reactions to the "invader" or allergen. Allergies are thought to be due to genetic or inherited factors, resulting in histamine release and other chemical substances that lead to redness, swelling, pain, and inflammation. In some cases, pesticides and injectable vaccinations may lead to increased allergic reactions.
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Flea allergy dermatitis
A flea allergy is caused by your pet's reaction to flea bites and saliva. It is important to realize that even one flea can cause an intense allergic reaction in pets with sensitive skin. Many pets itch and scratch constantly, leading to hair loss and sores. In dogs, these areas are most commonly found in the groin region, along the tail, down the back legs, and over the rump regions. In cats, scabs may be found on any part of the body. Diagnosis of a flea allergy is based on the above symptoms and detecting parasitic fleas or flea dirt on your pet. Flea combs can help detect fleas and flea dirt. Treatment of flea allergy includes removing fleas from your pet and home with flea medications. You should also treat your home and yard, where over 80% of the flea life cycle occurs. Natural product alternatives include Wondercide and Cedarcide, which are derived from essential oils. Even if fleas are found on only one pet in your home, it is important to treat all pets, and to treat your home and yard in order to prevent future flea infestations.
Food allergies & sensitivities
Food allergies in pets are usually caused by one or more ingredients found in pet foods, and may include reactions to meat products, soy, wheat, dairy, corn, carbohydrates, as well as additives and preservatives found in pet food products. Symptoms may include itching anywhere on the body, with secondary hair loss, irritation, and sores. Your pet's coat may become excessively dry or greasy. Chronic ear infections may also occur, as well as digestive tract symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. Cats with food allergies may often have only vomiting of hair or food. Food allergies are often diagnosed by blood or skin allergy testing, however these tests are not consistently accurate. Often a restricted, novel protein diet, which your pet has not been exposed to before, is necessary to diagnose food allergies. It is often necessary for the food trial to be done over a minimum of 6-8 weeks for proper diagnosis of food allergies. Proteins which are often useful include rabbit, venison, and duck. In other cases, grain-free diets offer dramatic relief of skin inflammation in many pets. Excellent pet food brands include Wellness, Wysong, Nature's Variety, and Evo.
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Contact allergies in pets can be caused by a number of substances in the environment. Carpet fibers and outdoor materials such as weeds, grass, vegetation, flowers, dirt, and mulches (protective covering made of leaves or straw) are common offending substances. Topical shampoos, dips, and pesticides also frequently cause contact allergies in pets with sensitive skin. Diagnosis of a contact allergy is sometimes possible from exposure history, or by reducing your pet's contact with these substances. Treatment includes avoiding offending substances and anti-inflammatory or antihistamine medicines. Excel Hydrocortisone Spray and Animax are some examples of effective topical allergy medicines.
Airborne allergies (atopy)
Inhalant airborne allergies (atopy) are very common in dogs and cats, and caused by molds, ragweed, dander, dust mites, plant pollens, and pigweed. Dogs will usually itch around the face, feet and ears, but any area of the body may be affected. Cats may also itch anywhere, but common areas include the head, neck, and thighs. Pets with inhalant airborne allergies often have worse symptoms during certain seasons or during seasonal changes. Airborne allergies may be suspected based on distribution of skin lesions and seasonality of the problem, however definitive diagnosis is made by skin and/or blood allergy testing. Treatments include removing the offending allergens from your pet's environment, as well as symptomatic anti-itch medication such as Prednisone or antihistamines. Periodic shampoo therapy with mild pet shampoos may help remove allergens from your pet's coat and paws. Anti-allergy medications such as Apoquel offer an alternative to Prednisone in allergic pets. Allergy desensitization (allergy shots) is effective 70% of the time. Holistic treatments such as the Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination (NAET) Technique has shown promise in severely affected animals.
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By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
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