A Message from the Vet - July 2011

An allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction after exposure to something usually harmless (the allergen). Allergens may cause allergic reactions after being inhaled, ingested, or simply contacting your pet's skin. The allergic reaction occurs because the allergen stimulates your pet's immune system to overreact in releasing antibodies and chemicals responsible for the itchy and inflamed sensation. There is rarely a "cure" for allergies. In most cases, allergies are controlled with prevention or treatment.

The four most common allergies in pets are: 1) flea allergies, 2) inhalant allergies (grass, mold, pollen), 3) food allergies, and 4) contact allergies. Like humans, pets can be allergic to almost anything, including plant pollens, mold, dust, mites, dander, feathers, cigarette smoke, fleas, food, drugs, perfumes, cleaning products, even plastic or cloth!

Allergy symptoms most typically look like a helplessly itchy pet, affecting the feet, face, eyes, ears, butt, or the whole body! Pets may lick, scratch, or rub themselves on the ground to try and satisfy the itch. In many cases, this self-trauma to their skin results in severe skin infections with bacterial and/or fungal elements. More rarely, sneezing, vomiting, or diarrhea may also be displayed as allergy symptoms.

Here are 8 simple steps to deal with your pet's allergies:

  1. Use an effective monthly flea control preventative. Over-the-counter products, flea collars, and flea shampoos are not as effective as veterinary-approved topical or oral flea preventative products.
  2. Once a week, thoroughly clean your pet's bedding or cage, and vacuum your rugs, carpet, and furniture to decrease levels of dander and dust.
  3. Bathe your pet up to twice a week to relieve itching and remove environmental contact allergens. Ask your veterinarian for advice on which shampoo is appropriate for your pet. Pets should be monitored for any sensitivity to ingredients in the shampoo.
  4. Use a veterinary-approved ear flush to clean your pet's ears twice a week.
  5. Wipe your pet's feet with a baby wipe or damp cloth, or use a quick foot bath each time your pet comes in from the outdoors.
  6. Perform a strict diet trial with a hypoallergenic diet such as Hill's Prescription Diet Z/D, or a novel protein diet such as lamb and rice, kangaroo and potato, duck and green peas, to name a few. Remember that diet trials will not work if you are still giving your pet other treats or table scraps that contain allergens!
  7. Add an Omega-3 fatty acid nutritional supplement to your pet's diet. These helpful fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and help the skin build back its natural protective layer.
  8. Consult your veterinarian to check for any underlying disorders such as hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism, diabetes, or auto-immune disease. Your veterinarian can also help you treat the secondary skin infections complicating the allergic reaction.
Caring for pets with allergies can take a lot of diligence and even experimentation with different food or products to find the right combination that works for you and your pet. Here at Kailua Animal Clinic we are happy to work with you and your pet in treating their allergies and helping them stay itch-free!

Jill Yoshicedo, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.