Scratch Scratch, Sniff Sniff, Achoo!
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
President and Founder
Pets Best Insurance
Unlike humans, who typically have nasal and sinus allergies, the most common form of allergies in dogs tend to be related to scratching and itching. While cats can develop allergies too, they tend to be more prevalent in dogs. Investing in pet insurance is a wise choice, considering that any pet can develop an allergy at any time.
The most common allergy, by far, is Atopy or allergic skin disease. These allergies can manifest all over the body with hives, itching, and constant scratching and may lead to a bacterial condition called pyoderma. All dog breeds can be affected by this, and symptoms usually begin between 1-4 years of age. At first the symptoms may be mild, but can worsen each year. This kind of allergy is usually seasonal and may be due to pollen, mold, house dust, mites and especially fleas.
Fleas are one of the more common causes for scratching and itching and dogs can become allergic to the flea saliva causing an intense allergic reaction over most of the body. Fleas can cause mild to severe symptoms depending upon the pet’s allergic response to the saliva. A bite from even just a few fleas can cause an allergy.
Some dog breeds are far more susceptible to allergies overall. Dalmatians, Bulldogs, English Setters, Irish Setters, Pugs, Golden Retrievers and many of the Terrier breeds are often most seen for allergy-related health problems. Like humans, pets can also develop food allergies and become allergic to specific ingredients or foods.
Although pets have natural protection from chemicals and other skin irritants because of their fur, they can still be sensitive to these things. Pets can also be allergic to vaccines, insect bites and drugs. These kinds of allergies are one-time episodes that only manifest when the pet is exposed to them. They are also usually easy to treat.
Avoidance of the allergen or irritant, if possible, is best. Dietary supplements, such as essential fatty acids, may help and if a food allergen is the cause, then complete avoidance of the offending food is required.
Allergy treatment will vary depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms. Steroids are commonly prescribed for short-term relief. Antihistamines have limited success, but do not have the negative effects that can come with long term steroid therapy.
Once the allergen has been determined from a skin test, they can also respond to injections or desensitization. Some allergies will respond to therapeutic shampoos and topical treatment with cortisone sprays. Secondary or primary pyodermas will require antibiotics, both topically and systemically. More intense treatments may require a referral from your veterinarian to a veterinary specialist in dermatology. Because allergies can occur in pets at any time from such a variety of culprits, cat and dog insurance is recommended.
Allergies can be very complex. Palliative type treatments provide relief but do not cure the condition. Complete cures are rare. Often, pet owners get discouraged by the cost and continuous treatment required for allergies. If an allergy has severe symptoms and manifests often, it’s wise to invest in a good diagnostic work-up at your veterinarian or licensed veterinary dermatologist.
Severe allergies can be frustrating and require good communication and record-keeping . Keep a log of what has worked for your pet so you and your veterinarian can adapt the diagnostics and treatment approach as necessary. Together, with the help of your vet and your pet insurance company, you can develop a maintenance plan to control the symptoms and help your pet live a long, healthy, happy life.