Skin allergies are an increasingly common malady affecting our pets. There are several causes of skin allergies, including parasites, inhaled allergens, food, and substances in the environment. Depending on the cause of the allergy, your pet may suffer to a greater degree at different times during the year. The clinical signs of skin allergies are similar, regardless of the cause. Itchiness is the most common sign exhibited by a pet when they have a skin allergy. As a result of the itchiness, your pet may lick, scratch, or chew the affected area.
The clinical presentation of a patient with skin allergies can be identical to that of many other skin diseases. As a result, a thorough examination, by a veterinarian, is the best first step when trying to diagnose and accurately treat your pet.
The most common hypersensitivity skin disorder in both dogs and cats is flea allergy dermatitis. It is caused by an allergy to the saliva of the flea. There are no breeds that have been found to be predisposed to this type of allergy. Most commonly this problem effects pets that are three to five years of age, but the allergy can be seen in pets of all ages. Dogs and cats are usually intensely itchy when they have fleas and are allergic to them. If you pet has a flea allergy you may notice hair loss or sores that are centered around the tail base and thighs. Diagnosis is most commonly made by a physical exam as well as by locating fleas on your pet. The absence of fleas on your pet does not rule out flea allergy. This is because a flea can bite your pet, causing an allergic response, and then the flea can flee! Treatment of flea allergy involves aggressive flea control, both on your pet and in the environment. Anti-inflammatory medication can be used to reduce your pet’s discomfort from itching.
The second most common type of skin allergy is allergic inhalant dermatitis, otherwise known as atopy. This type of allergy is most akin to hay fever and pollen allergies that send people running for tissues. While inhaled allergens effect our respiratory tract, in pets, the skin is the organ most effected. Both breed and genetic dispositions towards this type of allergy have been found. It is unknown how these allergies are inherited, but retrievers, schnauzers, terriers, and dalmations are over represented. Female dogs are more likely to have these allergies than their male counterparts. These allergies can be seasonal or non-seasonal and are caused by mold, pollen, and dust. Pets that have this type of allergy will often develop skin lesions as a result of self-trauma, such as licking and scratching. These lesions can become infected. Definitive diagnosis requires allergy testing. This can be done by skin testing or by blood tests. Treatment often focuses around the use of anti-inflammatory drugs such as prednisone or cortisone. Since this class of medication has been associated with side effects, it is best to minimize their usage. Other medications available for treatment include antihistamines and fatty acid therapy. Shampoo therapy can also be helpful in alleviating your pet’s discomfort. Allergy shots are also appropriate in some cases.
Allergies to specific foods have long been associated with skin disease in animals. Animals with food allergies develop skin lesions similar to those seen in other allergies. Pets with food allergies have usually been eating the offending substance for many years. If a pet has a food allergy, drug therapy will often do little to alleviate their discomfort. Diagnosis and treatment usually center around a food elimination trial. This means that you will feed your pet a diet that contains novel substances. For example, instead of feeding a traditional beef or chicken based diet, you might substitute a duck, fish, or venison diet to see if the symptoms abate. This trial may last up to a few months. Unless you are diligent and feed only the recommended diet, the trial will be invalid. A definitive diagnosis is made when clinical signs disappear while eating the novel food and reappear when the old food is reintroduced.
Environmental allergies, often referred to as allergic contact dermatitis, are an uncommon skin disorder in pets. Skin lesions can be found at the area where your pet contacts the offending substances. Some things that cause contact dermatitis are plants, medications, and home furnishings. Diagnosis of contact dermatitis is made by physical examination and known exposure. Treatment focuses around avoiding the offending substances. Anti-inflammatory medication may sometimes be necessary to improve your pet’s comfort.
Unfortunately, various skin allergies commonly effect our pets. While in some cases extensive diagnostics are necessary, the majority of patients can be easily treated. If you suspect that your pet has any type of skin allergy you may want to discuss it with your veterinarian.