Achoo! Did you feel that tickle in your nose? It’s likely your buddy did too. Allergy season strikes the Mid-Atlantic with a force and animals aren’t spared. In fact, at least 10 percent of dogs and 3 percent of cats suffer from an allergy of some type. Our furry companions can be allergic to the same things that we are. Dander, pollen, dust mites, other household pets and cleaning products; like laundry detergent, fabric softener and the like, cause many a dog and cat to itch.
Animals, however, can manifest symptoms differently than we do, says Debra Wulff, Medical Director of the Tidewater Emergency Animal and Referral Center. She says red flag number one, is skin irritation, “one of the first places you’ll notice is pets that are constantly licking and chewing on their feet. Also, with animals who have allergies we find they frequently have chronic ear infections.” Itchy feet, chronic ear infections, those are signs that your pet is likely allergic to either food or fauna.
Other symptoms can include, fur loss, eye drainage, constant scratching and hot spots. Hot spots are those bald and sometimes gooey looking areas on your pet’s body that he or she may frequently lick and lick in an attempt to heal. Wulff says, the problem is that these areas can lead to infection; so she recommends taking your pet in for a check up because those hot spots often require antibiotic treatment.
There are several steps owners can take to tackle their pet’s allergies; but it can be a slow process, says Dr. Wulff. “The first thing we’ll typically treat them with is an anti-histimine, because they can be obtained over the counter, they’re reasonably inexpensive and well tolerated.” Wulff says, the problem is, that only 30 to 40 percent of pets respond to these treatments. The next step is usually food modification,” a lot of these pets also have a food allergy component and if you don’t treat both environmental and food (allergies); you’re constantly battling both.”
Treating food allergies usually involves a ‘trial and error’ diet, of novel proteins that your pet has never seen before; such as venison, rabbit or fish. Chicken, soy, wheat and corn are common ingredients available in commerically sold pet foods and are typically responsible culprits for food allergies. Pets with food allergies, have to remain on these specific diets without waiver and often these diets are available only through veterinary prescription. A word of caution; these novel protein diets, while helpful, can be expensive and aren’t usually available at your local pet food dealer.
Wulff recommends that for those pets who suffer chronic allergies, that the owner consider allergy testing, much the same way humans do. The process involves a series of shots or allergy de-sensitization to whatever allergen the pet reacts to. Over time, the pet is exposed to the allergen in increasing levels and the idea is that he/she will eventually stop having the allergic reactions.
Another commonly prescribed treatment are steroids, which calm the inflammatory response. Wulff says that while steroid treatments do work in the short term, they can set pets up for other health issues down the road, “the newer generation doctors, are not as gung ho with steroid use. Yes, it works but you’re putting a band-aid on a broken leg and in the long run, and in cats, in particular, chronic use of steroids can cause diabetes melitus where they can become insulin dependent.” Sometimes, Wulff, says steroids can be a last chance resort, but she says she pushes hard for allergy testing for her general practice clients.
Basic housekeeping tips to keep allergies at bay:
- Stay alert for unusual behaviors your pet may show. Excessive scratching, paw chewing, diarrhea or changes in appetite or other behavior are all reasons to take a trip to the vet.
- Parasites can cause havoc. Fleas thrive near the beach and ticks thrive in wooded areas. Check your pet’s skin regularly for unwelcome vistors; as they can cause allergic reactions. Talk to your vet about lyme disease prevention if you take your pet into wooded areas.
- Maintain monthly heartworm prevention. The mid-Atlantic is a hot spot for heartworm infections. Talk to your vet about proper heartworm treatment.
- Maintain a clean environment. Clean pet bedding, regular grooming and exercise all contribute to a healthy pet. If you aren’t monitoring and cleaning your pet’s skin and bedding, you are potentially inviting a breeding ground for parasites. Exercise can also alleviate some of the compulsive behavior.