Just like humans, our furry companions can experience intense allergies, either during seasonal flare-ups or sometimes year-round. Don’t despair, there are ways to help our pets be more comfortable, but first, we need to understand what an “allergy” actually is and what can comprise allergies in dogs and cats.
An “allergy” is when our pet’s immune system overreacts and produces antibodies to substances that otherwise would be normally tolerated. Allergies can develop in response to a number of things, including food, fleas, environmental allergens (like pollen or grass), or even indoor allergens (like dust mites). Symptoms of allergies are most commonly noticed as itching of a local area or over the entire body, including feet and ears, but can also be seen as skin redness, runny eyes, and even sneezing. In other cases, allergies can manifest as chronic anal gland or gastrointestinal issues. Secondary to the intense licking and itching, we will see secondary skin and ear infections develop.
There are many allergy “treatments” available, but initially, we must address secondary infections with various oral and topical antibiotics and/or antifungals and discuss appropriate “adulticidal” flea prevention. Also, as part of our initial goal, we want to decrease the discomfort and itch as much as possible; the medications we use for this vary greatly depending on the severity of the itch and individual pet.
For long-term management, the key is being proactive and understanding that there isn’t a “cure-all” for allergies. Frequently using topical therapies with medicated products (i.e. shampoos, mousses, sprays, etc.) and potentially daily oral or monthly injectable medications that block itch pathways can substantially help keep flare-ups at bay. Also, special diets, like limited ingredient or hydrolyzed protein diets, and hyposensitization of the immune system through the use of immunotherapy, much like “allergy shots” in humans, can minimize our pets’ allergy reactions in the long-run.