If you're like me, spring fever is at a high pitch. From springtime through the late fall, many people are subject to seasonal allergies. But people are not the only ones suffering. For our dogs and cats, these same seasons can bring intense itching and discomfort. Yes, it seems our pets can get their own "hay fever."
It's a very frustrating and somewhat common situation. Pet owners by the millions flock to their veterinarians in the hope of relieving their pet's itchiness. For many people, the constant chewing, licking and scratching can test their love for their pets.
Current estimates show about 20 million pets suffer from some sort of skin condition, and many of these are allergies. Allergies are an overreaction of the body's immune system to a foreign substance, such as pollen or flea saliva. For people will allergies, we sneeze and sniffle as our bodies respond to histamine released by immune cells.
Our pets, however, react somewhat differently. As histamine is released, the receptors cause an itchy feeling, and the pet reacts by scratching at that site on the skin. Scratching can generate more histamine release, thereby causing more scratching. The constant assault on the skin by the pet's claws can actually damage the skin, leading to bacterial infections. At our hospital, we see many dogs with otitis externa, or ear infections, and it is my opinion that at least half of these infections are allergy related
Fleas are often found to be the reason for a pet's itchiness. In the Four Corners, we don't have a lot of flea issues, but, depending on the springtime weather, we can have some outbreaks, and we are already seeing fleas this year.
However, the pet that is truly allergic to fleas will often appear to have no fleas at all! Why? Because these pets are the ultimate flea catchers, doing everything in their power to bite or scratch the discomfort of the flea away. The flea's saliva sets off an allergic reaction leading to a flurry of chewing and digging at the skin. Springtime through fall is the time to consider using a topical treatment, such as Vectra, for external parasites.
Allergies to airborne substance, such as pollen and mold spores, are another reason for itchiness in pets. This is known as atopy and affects many pets from springtime straight through fall. Typically, springtime allergies are from trees, summer ones are from grasses and allergies in the fall are from weeds.
If your pet has signs of allergies year-round and you see little or no improvement with certain medications, you may have a pet that has food allergies. Contrary to popular belief, food allergies take time to develop and are not due to recent diet changes. Most pets who develop food allergies have been eating the offending food with little problem for years.
In some mild cases, allergic itchiness can be treated with anti-histamines or even steroids for a short period of time. However, pet owners need to be aware that allergies are not a condition that can be cured, but they can commonly be controlled. The good news, though, is that they can be well-managed with a team effort from the pet owner and the veterinary team. We now have some newer medications, such as Atopica and Apoquel, which have proven effective for those patients who are just miserable.
In all cases, you, the pet owner, are a vital part of the team. It will be up to you to make sure that all pets in the household are treated for fleas or that your pet stays on the recommended medications or hypo-allergenic diet and doesn't sneak other treats!