Living with an itchy pet can be an extremely frustrating experience for you, and cause discomfort for your dog. Scratching and chewing by the pet can also result in self-trauma and open wounds. The following information is intended to provide you with a basic understanding of the most common underlying causes of itching and allergies in the small animal.
What are Allergies?
Allergy is a state of super skin sensitivity in which exposure to a normally harmless substance known as an allergen causes the body’s immune system to overreact. The incidence of allergies is increasing in both humans and their pets. People with allergies usually have “hay fever” (watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing) or asthma. While dogs can rarely also have respiratory allergies, more commonly they experience the effects of allergic hypersensitivities as skin problems. Though there are a variety of presentations, this can often be seen as redness, itching, hair loss , foot licking /face rubbing and recurring skin or ear infections.
What are the Major Types of Allergies in Dogs?
Atopic dermatitis (AD) is an inherited predisposition to develop skin problems from exposure to variety of commonplace and otherwise harmless substances including the pollens of weeds, grasses and trees, as well as house dust mites and mold spores. Diagnosis of AD is made based on the results of intradermal skin testing or by blood testing. Evaluating the results of these tests helps us compile a list of allergens for a vaccine that is made to decrease the pet’s sensitivity.
Flea allergic dermatitis is relatively common skin disease in Hong Kong. For the flea allergic patient, 100% flea control is essential for the pet to remain symptom-free. But doctor, I never see fleas on my pet. You may not see them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. The allergy is caused by the flea’s saliva, and it only takes a few bites to induce the problem. Also, the itchy pet often scratches so much that adult fleas are removed, making them hard to find. Because flea allergy is so common, we recommend that complete flea control be instituted before proceeding with diagnostics for other allergies and that year-round flea control be maintained for all allergy patients.
Some pets develop specific hypersensitivities to components of their diets. The allergen usually is a major protein or carbohydrate ingredient such as beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat, or soy. Minor ingredients such as preservatives or dyes are also potential allergens. The diagnosis of food allergy requires that we test your pet by feeding special strict diets that contain only ingredients that he has never eaten before. This is often achieved by feeding a prescription diet for a period of 12 to 16 weeks. If the signs resolve, a challenge is performed by feeding the former diet and watching for a return of the itching. If this occurs, a diagnosis of food allergy is confirmed.
Allergies are often the underlying cause of recurring skin and/or ear infections. Bacterial and yeast infections, though secondary to the allergy, can cause an increase in your pet’s level of itching. Long-term treatment with antibiotics and anti-yeast medications is commonly required along with medicated bathing programs.
Can Allergies be Cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergy and it is usually a life-long problem. We seek to control allergy and improve the quality of life for both you and your pet. We will formulate the best program of management that suits all involved with your pet’s care.
Can I Have the Itching Treated Without the Expense of Diagnostic Testing?
Symptomatic drug therapy can help to reduce itching. Steroids, such as prednisone, are often employed to stop the itch. However, without addressing the underlying cause, the itching will return. Long-term use of steroids can result in many health problems. This is the reason that we encourage diagnosis of the underlying cause of the allergy and more specific or less potentially harmful treatments.