Pets with Allergies

Has your pet been itching, scratching, shaking their head, has hair loss in certain places and/or  has little red or yellow bumps all over? Are you wondering what could be happening to them???

Our vets at MVVS understand how frustrating skin issues can be. It might surprise you to know that there are over 160 skin conditions that can affect your pet, ranging from curable to incurable. Our veterinarians will perform diagnostic tests to determine the reason your pet has skin issues, then an individualized therapeutic treatment plan can be employed.

Skin tests such as scrapings, cytology and fungal cultures will rule out the most common contagious reasons for skin problems.

Once other issues have been ruled out it may be determined that allergies are the root cause. Dog’s and cat’s allergic mechanism in their skin is comparable to the human’s allergic respiratory system. The same type of cell that causes congestion and sneezing in humans is present in high concentrations in the skin of dogs and cats, causing the itching, scratching and redness that pet owners observe at home.

An allergy is a state of over-reactivity or hypersensitivity of the immune system to a particular substance called an allergen. Most allergens are proteins, this can include pollen and house dust mites. Allergies are quite common in dogs and cats of all breeds and backgrounds. Most allergies appear after the pet is 6 months old, with the majority of affected pets showing signs by 2 years of age. As your pet ages, it is not uncommon for allergy symptoms to worsen and for your pet to develop more than one type of allergy. In addition, your pet can develop other issues as well, such as ear infections and anal gland issues (ears, rears and feet!).

You will usually see scratching, chewing, licking of the paws, rubbing of the face or rear end, or watery eyes. An animal can scratch and chew himself raw, which can lead to secondary infections, excessive shedding and alopecia (hair loss).

There are medications that can make your pet feel better depending on what is causing the issue and if there is a secondary infection present. That is why a full evaluation by one of our veterinarians is needed to determine the best course of treatment. A lot of your common allergies are incurable, but allergies can be managed with products that will lessen the severity of the symptoms.  The following is a list of commonly used medications and products use to control allergy symptoms: Antihistamines, Apoquel, Corticosteroid, immunosuppressive drug and non-steroidal, Cytopoint, Omega 3 & 6 fatty acid supplement.

Topical products – Bathing and wiping affected areas with a hypoallergenic shampoo and/or wipes can help lessen the amount of allergens on your pet’s coat and skin that are absorbed. Your veterinarian may prescribe shampoos or other topical medications to help manage your pet’s condition and decrease the amount of systemic oral medications your pet needs to take. Using year-round flea and tick prevention is recommended for all pets but helps allergic pets from additional stress.

There are four common types of allergies: contact dermatitis, flea allergy dermatitis, atopic dermatitis and food allergies

Contact Dermatitis

Contact Dermatitis is an allergic reaction to a substance that touches the skin. Common products that can cause contact allergies are plastics, fabrics, and topical products like pyrethrins found in over-the-counter fleas collars or pesticides used on the lawn.

Skin irritation and itching at the points of contact, usually the feet and stomach, are typical for dogs. Cats tend to have allergic reactions from eating and drinking from plastic bowls. They can develop pustules around their chin and muzzle.

Removal of the allergen (once it can be identified) often solves the problem.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Pets with FAD are not only irritated by flea bites, but are allergic to the parasite’s saliva. A single bite will cause severe local itching. One flea can bite up to 75 times a day! Your pet will bite and scratch itself and may remove large amount of hair, especially around the base of the tail and extending down the hind quarters. Because just one flea can be a problem for the allergic pet, strict flea control is essential

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, or atopy, is an environmental allergy. Animals can come in contact with environmental allergens both indoors and outdoors. Mold, mildew and house dust mites can be just a few of the indoor allergens. Outdoor allergens include: trees, grass and weed pollens. Pets breathing in these allergens can play a small role in causing atopy symptoms, however, the main route of exposure is through their skin.

Atopy is associated with irritation in certain parts of the body. In dogs, these areas are: around the eyes and mouth, ear infections, “armpits”, abdomen, around the anus, and legs.

Cats often do not show the irritation pattern like dogs do. Cats typically will exhibit one or more of the following symptoms: fur mowing or barbering, skin lesions, small seed-like scabs and face/ear itching.

While successful management of atopy is possible, unfortunately a permanent cure is not usually possible. If your pet has outdoor seasonal allergies, after several years the duration of the itchy period can extend until he/she is itchy all year long.  However, topical or systemic medications can help decrease symptoms and keep your pet comfortable. In some cases, skin allergy testing may be appropriate and a veterinary dermatologist can formulate an injection to desensitize a pet’s immune system to its most reactive allergens.

Food Allergies

Food sensitivity is a more fitting term for what is thought of as food allergies. Food allergies can develop at any age. Food allergies can take the longest to develop and even longer to resolve. Most animals have been eating the offending food for years with no trouble. The most common food allergens include: dairy products, beef, lamb, chicken, pork, eggs, soy, corn, and wheat gluten. Be aware of “Animal Fats added” which usually means beef tallow. Dyes and preservatives found in pet food are highly reactive as well.

Aside from the skin issues described in the atopy section, food sensitive pets have recurrent ear infections, and in 15-20% of dogs and cats there is often a gastrointestinal component of recurrent vomiting and diarrhea, or increased flatulence or bowel movements.

The most accurate way of testing for food sensitivities is with an elimination diet trial using a novel protein or hydrolyzed diet. A novel protein diet is feeding a protein source your dog or cat has not eaten before. A hydrolyzed diet is often chicken or soy based where the proteins are broken down into molecules too small to excite the immune system.

It takes about 4 weeks for a new, healthy skin cell to mature and be present near the skin surface, even curable skin diseases may take weeks to resolve.

It takes eight weeks for all other food products to be eliminated from the body. Your pet must eat the special diet exclusively for at least 10 weeks to gather proper information on your pet’s response to the diet. Any little “cheat” to the diet will require starting the trial period over again.

An elimination diet typically is started once all other problems are identified, treated and under control. To be a true elimination trial for your pet, all people living within the home must be committed to feeding only this special diet. This requires no other foods – including people food, treats, rawhides, bones or supplements, be fed during the trial period. Keep in mind certain medications are flavored and should not be used during the trial. Discuss all medications including heartworm preventives, pain medications (examples: Rimadyl and Deramaxx), supplements, and certain antibiotics (example: Baytril) your pet is taking with our vets to ensure they will not interfere with a food trail. If the diet is not fed exclusively, it will not be a valid test. It may take three to four diet trials to find a food that will be tolerated for your pet.

The prescription diets our veterinarians recommend in food allergy trials have a 100% guarantee. This means if your pet doesn’t like the food, you can return it for a full refund, even if the bag is opened. This is especially helpful for any pet who is a picky eater. It should be noted that prescription diets have a high standard of production. Many high end limited ingredient diets may only have what is listed on the label in the food, but the food was made in a plant or with machinery that had other dog food made on the same line. Thus contaminating the limited ingredient diets and leading to allergy flare ups. There have been studies that have proven this. It is best to use a prescription diet with the guarantee. In the end, they are not that much more expensive and have a 100% money back guarantee. (Note: The guarantee is if your pet won’t eat them, not if it doesn’t work.)

Home cooked meals are an alternative to commercial prescription diets, but it is essential they are balanced with the correct amount of ingredients, vitamins and minerals. Recipes for appropriate diets can be purchased through, a website set up by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

Food sensitivities do not respond well to corticosteroids or other medical treatments. The best course of treatment is to avoid the offending components in their diet.

Other recommendations:

  • Avoid certain toys (made from food sources your pet is allergic to or stuffed toys with atopy allergens) and wash bedding in hypoallergenic detergent regularly to minimize dust mite exposure.
  • Remove an atopic pet from the area when vacuuming or dusting.
  • Use air-conditioning and/or an air filter system.
  • Keep an atopic pet away from the lawn while it is being mowed and pick up grass clippings before the pet walks in the area.

Allergies can be a headache for you, but just think of the misery that your pet is going through while trying to treat these issues. Don’t give up on them!


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