Skin disease, itching, chewing, scratching and hair loss are some of the most common presenting complaints in veterinary offices.
These are often broken down by Allergies (most common); Infections (bacterial, fungal, or parasitic); or hormonal (not itchy - thyroid or adrenal disease).
Pet allergies have become the top health problem pet owners deal with on a regular basis. Like people, pets with allergies are typically allergic to several things which can include fleas, airborne allergens, food allergens, contact allergens, and bacterial allergens.
The most common pet allergy is to fleas, and most pets who have allergies have at least some flea allergy component. Flea allergies are often manifested in the area of the lower back, tail head, around the neck and base of ears. New technology in flea control products has come a long way toward helping the flea allergic pet. When choosing a flea control product, always chose a topical product for allergic pets since oral products have no effect until after the flea bites to ingest the insecticide. While many products are marketed for monthly use, the flea allergic patient might need application of 2 different products on a twice monthly basis to be stay comfortable. Use topical medications only (not oral). My favorite flea combination is AdvanTix and Revolution. Remember – if you are allergic to bee stings – even one sting can be severe, so the flea allergic pet cannot suffer even one flea bite. Every pet in the household should be maintained on an astringent flea control program –not just the allergic pet, since fleas don’t live only on one pet but can move from pet to pet.
Airborne Allergies :
The second most common allergy is to airborne pollen and spores. While people typically inhale these allergens, they usually impregnate through the skin of pets. These pets often exhibit problems with their ears (which have little hair on the inside to protect them), the belly (where they come in contact with the allergens and where their hair is usually thinner) and licking their feet (where they walk through allergens which get stuck in the hair between the toes). The best solution for inhalant allergies in pets as with people, is to test and identify the allergens than avoid their presence – or go through a vaccine desensitization program for those allergens. Allergy tests can be done on the skin (by a local dermatologist who comes through Little Rock 1 – 2 times monthly) or by testing the blood (done in our office). Your pet needs to be off any steroids for 2 months and antihistamines for 2 weeks prior to the test. Once allergens are identified, a series of vaccine vials are created at different strengths and can be administered on a daily oral program or injection program (once every 4 – 14 days). By the end of the first year, most clients will have spent between $800 - $1200. After the first six months of vaccines 25% of pet owners are very satisfied with the results they receive, 25% are disappointed there was not a better response, and 50% feel there was improvement but not resolution and are left still using regular medications to “make up the difference”. Skin testing with the board certified dermatologist does improve those results a little. Allergy testing and desensitization vaccinations have very minimal adverse side effects and are the ONLY means of affecting a “CURE” for allergies.
An easy thing to help with these allergies is wiping the allergens off several times daily using a wet rag or hypoallergenic baby wipes on the feet, ears and undercarraige to prevent the allergens from starting the migration process through the skin.
Antihistamines are sometimes helpful for managing these allergies if your pet isn’t tested or doesn’t respond well to the vaccination program. While large overdoses of antihistamines can be toxic to pets, appropriate dosed products are very safe and have very minimal side effects with chronic long term usage. Benadryl can be used on a twice daily dose of ~ 1 mg per pound of body weight up to 50 mg every 8 – 12 hours. While it is the most commonly used product, it also seems to have the more limited effects on pets with skin allergies. Claritin and Zyrtec can either one be used daily or twice daily (5 mg up to 30 lbs, 10 mg for over 30 lbs), they should not be used together. Generics can be used but don’t use products with decongestants (NOT “D”). Also it is important to make sure you don't use products containing Xylitol - an artificial sweetener. Prescription antihistamines are available for pets not benefited by over the counter products. Unlike people, pets normally require 10 – 18 days to see benefit from regular anti-histamine administration. Like people, each pet responds to each anti-histamine differently. If a pet is not improving after 2 – 3 weeks of daily antihistamine use, another antihistamine should be tried. If over the count products are not working, prescription products should be tried.
Fatty acids and skin nutrient supplements (vitamin E, Selenium, Zinc) often help with overall skin health and thereby improve comfort.
Medicated shampoos often help and should be prescribed by your doctor based on your pet’s specific skin problem
Topical application products are available and may be of some temporary relief but should be prescribed by your pet’s doctor since everything you apply to your pet’s skin will likely be promptly licked off and ingested.
For patients not completely managed by anti-histamines, we can add one of three drugs:
Atopica – moderately expensive, minimal long term side effects but occasional short term complications with getting the individual dose titrated for each pet (nausea, diarrhea). Consistently available, should be used on a fairly consistent basis
Apoquel – moderately expensive, minimal side effects, erratically available, should be used fairly consistently.
Prednisone – very inexpensive, causes increased water intake and urine output, can increase appetite and cause weight gain, can increase long term side effects of liver disease/diabetes. Can be taken on an inconsistent as needed basis. If prednisone is needed on a regular consistent basis, Apoquel or Atopica should be considered.
Food allergies :
Pets, like many people, can have allergies to foods. Most often, the allergy is to the primary protein source in the food. (Rarely if ever are the grain sources the problem). It takes 2 – 3 months for the dietary allergens to be cleared from the system so benefits from a diet trial may take several months to appreciate. It is very important to make sure that your pet is not on a protein restricted diet . . . then receiving snacks treats or flavored medications with beef poultry or pork byproducts. There are some Veterinary prescription diets formulated to be NON – Allergenic meaning the protein has been processed so that allergies cannot develop. While these products are the most expensive and most difficult to come by (often ordered in advance), their use in an initial food trial can completely rule out the possibility of food allergies. Novel Protein or HYPO – allergenic diets are made from proteins that are uncommon in dog foods and thereby less likely to have already caused an allergy in your pet. These are less expensive than NON – Allergenic diets and are a little more readily available with greater selection. Care must be taken to ensure that the product is labeled as a Hypo-allergenic product since a dog food can be marketed “with Real Venison” but have beef, pork or poultry added as well, or they could be manufactured on the same line as products with other meats leaving residual amounts in the marketed product. These products should be primarily single protein diets and comprise of proteins like fish, rabbit, venison, kangaroo, or tofu. It should be noted that over time, your pet can develop allergies to this proteins just like they did with beef pork or poultry. Patients improving on a Hypo or Non allergenic diet should never be fed anything else.
Contact allergies :
Household products like carpet cleaners or laundry detergents can cause contact allergies often manifested with a belly or underside pattern. Dust and dander mites can cause contact allergies as well. Use of hypoallergenic detergents and frequent cleaning of hypo allergenic bedding covers often helps these pets.
Bacterial allergies :
Some pets can develop allergies to bacteria. This can be a real problem because once the skin gets inflamed from other allergies, they often get a secondary skin bacterial infection . . . which makes the inflammation worse . . . which makes the infection worse - and so on and so on. Antibiotics are very helpful for these patients – not because they stop the allergies, but because they can kill the bacteria the pet is allergic to.
Successful management of the allergic patient requires tenacity and diligence by the every one involved. Referral to a local dermatologist is available for interested clients.
If your pet's allergy issues are getting under your skin, call our office for an appointment today to get started on a healthy skin management plan.