Spring in Georgia involves azaleas and Bradford pear trees blooming, vibrant colors, and POLLEN! It has become a common site to see the yellow cloud floating through the air and covering our cars. We suffer through the allergy season with a stuffy nose, but what about our pets? Allergies in our pets are characterized by chronic itching caused by hypersensitivity to one or more allergies.
In our pet’sworld, there are a few breeds that are more predisposed to allergies than others. The following dog breeds are more at risk to develop allergies: West Highland Terriers, Scottish Terriers, Lhasa Apso, Shih-tzu, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, and miniature Schnauzer. Our cats do not show a breed predilection. These allergies generally manifest themselves between 6 months and 7 years of age, with most appearing between 1-3 years old.
So what exactly are allergies in pets? The scientific answer is genetically programmed hypersensitivity to one or more allergens. A pet is exposed to an allergen, such as pine pollen, and the pollen is inhaled or absorbed through the skin. The body then produces a type of antibody called IgE. This antibody then binds to a white blood cell called a mast cell. This cell will then release histamines, which cause the inflammation and especially the itching. That is a very quick explanation of how allergens cause the reaction we see in our pets.
Itching is the most common reaction to allergens in our pets. The itching will generally be on the feet, ears, muzzle, and groin region. However, itching is not enough to diagnose your pet with allergies. Other causes of itching must be considered first. Does your pet have fleas? Do they have mange or a skin infection caused by bacteria or yeast? Is this behavioral? Are the symptoms even caused by cancer? We had already touched on several of these last month and will not go into them further. Itching has several causes, and not all dogs that itch have allergies.
It is now time to see your veterinarian because our family pet is miserable and itching all the time. One of the most important things to give your pet’s doctor is a good history. From this we may be able to determine if the allergies are seasonal or year-round. We also may be able to isolate a particular allergen and eliminate it. Always give a thorough history to your veterinarian. They will then do a physical examination, and further diagnostics will be needed to rule-out some of the other problems we discussed earlier. Skin scrapes will determine if mange mites are present. Cytology will show bacteria and yeast. Fungal cultures are even needed at times. Once the diagnostics have been performed, it is time to test for the allergies in our pet.
Allergies are determined by one of two ways. The testing can be done intradermal or through serum testing. Intradermal testing is what we think about when someone said they had allergy testing done. Specific allergens are injected into the skin, and the reaction is measured and compared to the controls on the skin. Serum testing detects the antibodies circulating in the blood. This is a very convenient test for most clinicians since it only requires blood to be drawn from the pet. Depending on the test results, specific therapy is then instituted to decrease the reaction by the body to the allergens.
Therapy is geared toward the pet and any allergens we discovered. Seasonal allergies may be treated with antihistamines and omega fatty acids. This is an excellent first line, but it is not always beneficial. Steroids were the drug of choice for allergies, but they have fallen out of favor recently. They are excellent in the short term but are not desirable for long term therapy due to their potential for long-term medical problems. An excellent alternative is Apoquel©. It stops the itching with the same results as steroids, but it does not have steroids side effects. It is also a medication that is best used short term until long term therapy can be initiated.
Long term therapy is generally one of two options. The first option is a medication called cyclosporine. This drug modulates the body’s immune response to allergens. It is, however, a little expensive for medium to large breed dogs. Cats may not like the size of the tablet or capsule and may be resistant to taking the medication. Another option is immunotherapy. This therapy injects gradually increasing amounts of the allergens. This will cause the body to become desensitized to the allergen. The major drawback to this therapy is that the owner has to give injections to their pet on a regular basis. Each of these therapies has benefits and problems. Discuss these options with your veterinarian.
Allergies in pets are as frustrating as in humans. Also like humans, there are several ways to manage them, and your veterinarian can guide you toward the correct therapy. If your suspect your pet is itching due to allergies, discuss this with your pet’s doctor today.