Pet Health Tips: Allergies

Could My Dog Have Allergies?

by Erin Ruhe

Most pet owners are well aware of human allergies. But did you know that your dog can have allergies, too? There are actually many allergens that can affect your dog. Some dogs show allergic responses to particles in the air, like pollens, molds, dust, and tiny bits of insect bodies. Other dogs become allergic to their food, a particular shampoo or bedding. Certain drugs, internal parasites (worms) and external parasites, such as mosquitoes, ticks, or fleas may cause allergic reactions. Dogs react to most allergens through their skin. Often times “hot spots” will develop where the dog has continually licked or scratched a portion of his/her skin. You may notice that your dog sneezes a lot or licks at his paws all the time. Often, allergies will cause a dog to have recurrent ear infections. There are several ways to manage your dog’s allergies. Antihistamines and fatty acid supplements can reduce the allergic response. Special shampoos and rinses can help alleviate symptoms too. In severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe steroids to help with intense itching. If you think your dog may be suffering from the affects of allergies, talk to your veterinarian about a treatment plan that is best suited for your pet.

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Should I Get My Pet Tested for Allergies?

by Ventzislav Lazarov

Allergies are abnormal immune reactions to any substance. These substances cause an allergic reaction when an animal is exposed to them by inhaling, ingesting, or coming in contact with the skin. Allergic animals possess antibodies that react with specific allergens to produce a series of chemical reactions that cause the allergic reaction. If your pet is repeatedly exposed to an allergen the resistance of their immune system will weaken often resulting in poor health. There are many kinds of allergens such as pollens, molds, house dust, feathers, fleas, certain chemicals, and foods.

Itching of the skin is the most common symptom of a pet allergy. The respiratory tract can be affected causing coughing, sneezing, and/or wheezing. At times, the eyes and nose may develop a discharge. Also, the digestive system may be affected causing vomiting or diarrhea.

Intradermal skin testing and blood testing are two methods commonly used to identify a pet's sensitivity to allergens. The tests complement each other in the process of identifying the different allergens. Intradermal skin testing is more accurate, but blood testing has the advantage of being easer to perform and covers a broader range of allergens. Based on the test results an allergy vaccine is made up specifically for your pet. Usually, the vaccine is administered for the lifetime of the pet. After an initial series of injections, periodic boosters will be needed (every 1-3 weeks). 60% to 80% of animals will improve with the vaccine. Results may not be evident during the first 3 to 6 months. When results are not seen in 9 to 12 months, a re-evaluation is necessary.

Therapy may include:

  1. Antihistamines
  2. Avoidance of allergens
  3. Oral Steroids (prednisone, cortisone, triamcinolone, etc.)
  4. Topical Steroids
  5. Cyclosporine
  6. Fatty acid supplements
  7. Allergen Specific Immunnotherapy.

Your pet is unique, and the type of medication, proper dosage, and frequency of giving the medication may change or vary over time. Allergies cannot be cured, however, they can be controlled.

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Shaking the Seven-Year Itch!!!!

Atopy is simply a fancy name for “Hay Fever”. This is the second most common allergic disorder in canines (after flea hypersensitivity). Atopy affects approximately 10% of the canine population. This particular allergy is heritable. This means that genetically pre disposed dogs become sensitized to environmental antigens that do not normally create disease in a non-atopic animal. Allergens are absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested. On subsequent exposure the allergen causes the release of inflammatory mediators (such as histamine) that cause itching, inflammation and other skin signs. Commonly implicated allergens include house dust, house dust mites, molds, human dander, feathers, weeds, pollen, grasses and trees. Most animals are sensitive to multiple allergens and have concurrent allergies (e.g. food allergies, flea allergy dermatitis or both). Onset of clinical signs generally occurs between the ages of three months to seven years with initial signs seen between one and three years of age. These allergies usually begin as seasonal disease (spring or fall) but then become year round. Overwhelming itch is commonly evident through head shaking; face rubbing, feet chewing, but scooting or rubbing bellies on the carpet. Frequently, the atopic dog’s history is one of recurrent secondary bacterial or yeast skin infections, as well as ear infections. More chronic conditions can result in hair loss and thickened skin. Breed predisposition and seasonality of clinical signs is suggestive of atopy. Definitive diagnosis requires testing. Currently there are both an intradermal skin test and a blood test for commonly encountered allergens. Ideally these tests are run simultaneously. Once specific problematic allergens are identified, Fido’s allergies and the associated symptoms can we easily managed but NEVER cured. The treatment of choice involves weekly injections of an allergen solution that can be given at home. Fido’s allergen solution is designed specifically for him based on his allergy reactors as determined by the allergy tests. The injections increase the threshold of tolerance for an allergen. Other treatment options include antihistamines (effective in 30% of atopic canines), allergen avoidance and steroids (serious side effects). If your dog’s occasional itch has become a seven-year itch see your veterinarian regarding an allergy work up.

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Food Trial for Food Allergies

An allergy to food components is a major cause of itching and skin disease in dogs. Food allergies can be the underlying cause of recurrent ear infections, facial itching, feet licking and chewing, and belly itching. Dogs with any or all of these signs have often developed a hypersensitivity to a specific allergen in their food such as proteins found in beef, pork, or chicken, and carbohydrates such as corn, wheat, and soy. The best way to both diagnose and treat food allergy problems in dogs is to remove these possible allergens from his or her diet. A food trial consists of feeding your dog an allergen-free diet such as Hill’s z/d ultra or Purina HA. z/d ultra contains proteins that are broken down so small that the body doesn’t react to them. A food trial lasts for a minimum of eight weeks. During these 8 weeks it is essential that your dog eat nothing but his prescribed food. All rawhides, dog treats, flavored chews, and table scraps must be withheld. If you feel strongly that your dog needs crunchy treats he or she can have veggies such as baby carrots. If at the end of eight weeks your dog is no longer itchy or experiencing ear problems it is very likely that he was allergic to components in his food. At that point the decision can be made to continue feeding the hypoallergenic diet, or to introduce beef, chicken, pork, and carbohydrates one at a time to determine which food he was allergic to, and broaden his diet choices to any diet that excludes his or her specific allergen.

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Can My Pet Have a Vaccine Reaction?

by Rajeev Nair

Pet owners are used to taking their pets to veterinarians for annual vaccination in a timely fashion. Many of them have questions about vaccine reactions. Vaccines are intended to stimulate the immune system so as to protect the animal from a specific infectious agent. Like in people, this stimulation can cause some minor symptoms like muscle or joint soreness, soreness or swelling at the injection site, hives, lethargy or a mild fever. These symptoms are generally not serious and may go unnoticed.

Allergic reactions occur when the body reacts to some specific proteins in the vaccines that are entering the body. This is just like some people having allergies, your pet may be allergic to a particular protein in the vaccine. Moderate reactions may include round swellings over the skin surface, called urticaria. Hives are a vascular reaction of the skin which is commonly seen as wheals, marked swelling and redness of the lips, swelling around the eyes and neck region. Usually these animals show itching and skin irritation. Usually this is the most common reaction seen in cats. These moderate reactions can be treated early with corticosteroids or anti-histamnes by your veterinarian.

In severe cases, a sudden allergic reaction called “anaphylaxis” can happen. There will be swelling of the larynx leading to airway obstruction, sudden onset of vomiting, diarrhea, unsteady movements and a drop in blood pressure. Emergency veterinary treatment is warranted in these situations because death can occur within a short time. If your pet has a history of vaccine reaction, you should notify the veterinarian prior to vaccination. Anti-histamine drugs like Benadryl can be injected prior to vaccination to minimize the symptoms of the reaction. Also multiple vaccinations can be separated by hours or days to decrease the likelihood of your pet having an allergic reaction.

Vaccination reactions are rare and the advantages of vaccinations outweigh the allergic reactions. It is a good idea to keep record of vaccinations and any allergic reactions so that you can inform your veterinarian about any history of allergic reactions prior to vaccination.

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