We all know about allergies in people, but allergic skin disease (also called Atopy) is a problem we are seeing increasingly commonly in our pets too.
Allergies are immune reactions in which an animal responds abnormally to common, normally harmless substances called allergens.
Our pets may come into contact with allergens in 3 main ways:
- Inhalation- eg pollens and house dust mite droppings
- Contact – eg flea bites, washing powders on bedding
- Ingestion – eg foods
Your pet could become allergic to almost anything he/she comes into contact with or eats, which is why, to a lot of pet owners, it is a very frustrating problem. The onset of allergy problems is almost always between 1 and 6 years of age.
The main symptom of contact and inhalation allergies is intensely itchy skin. Signs include face rubbing, paw irritation (pedal dermatitis), recurrent ear problems, persistent licking and over grooming. These types of allergies often lead to skin disease in specific sites such as ears, feet, armpits, face and groin. Your pet will be itchy and start scratching or chewing, thereby exacerbating the condition and making the skin even more inflamed or even infected – it soon becomes a vicious circle.
Food allergies can cause symptoms of gastrointestinal disease ie vomiting and diarrhoea, but equally they may cause dermatitis (itchy skin). If the allergy is to particular foods, then avoiding the allergenic ingredients and/or hypoallergenic diets can be very useful. Common food allergies are to beef and wheat.
Drugs such as steroids or anti-histamines will help most allergies short term but for a long term solution it is useful to identify the allergens involved. It is also important to rule out other potential causes of skin disease such as mites. A blood sample or an intradermal skin test can help to identify the allergens involved, and then a vaccine specific to your pet’s allergies can sometimes be prepared, which can be a successful way of dealing with the problem.
Unfortunately, allergies cannot always be cured. Instead, both humans and pets need to avoid contact with the allergen or they need medication to alleviate the symptoms. The best approach is to identify the allergen and minimise exposure to it. Flea allergies are extremely common and are greatly improved by effective flea control. In fact, this is always recommended in any allergic patient as even a single flea bite can massively exacerbate the problem. Our preferred method of flea control is ongoing, regular (monthly) application of Stronghold to the back of the neck. Stronghold is on special offer at Banstead Village Vets during June 2010 – buy 3 packets of stronghold for the price of 2!