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Does My Pet Have Skin Allergies?

If you have a pet, chances are you’ve watched them itch, scratch or lick a troubling spot on their skin. While the sound can be quite irritating, don’t blame your pet! Their actions could be the result of a skin condition or even allergies. Learn more about our pets’ allergies from Dr. Kara Wolf, DVM, Technical Services Staff Veterinarian for Virbac Corporation.

1. What are the signs that my pet has allergies?

Itching is the hallmark sign of allergic skin disease in pets. Pets may scratch, lick, bite, or chew at various areas of their body because of allergies or due to other skin diseases. Thus, it is important to properly diagnose the cause of the itchy skin as soon as possible. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections may exist, which also contribute to the itchiness. Determining the cause of the itch is important to developing the most effective treatment plan to bring the pet relief.

2. What different types of allergies may cause my pet to suffer?

Although there are many causes to itchy skin in pets, there are three main types of allergic skin disease: parasitic, such as flea bite dermatitis from the presence of fleas; food allergy, secondary to a protein or grain ingested over a period of time; and atopy, caused by exposure to an environmental allergen. These allergy types may prove difficult to diagnose and manage. Recognizing the pattern of skin involvement can provide insight into to a potential cause of the pet's allergic skin disease. Affected sites noticed with flea allergy include the lower back, tail head, perineum, hind limbs, and umbilical area. Food allergy tends to affect the ears and rear of the pet; however, it can also mimic signs of atopy. Classic signs of atopy involve self-trauma to the face, feet, axilla/armpits, and groin regions of the pet due to intense itchiness.

3. Are pet allergies seasonal or year round?

Rate of occurrence of the allergy is directly associated with exposure to the allergen. If the exposure occurs daily or frequently throughout the year, the allergic skin disease will have a non-seasonal or year-round response. If the exposure only happens during certain times of the year, then it is considered seasonal. Flea and food allergy can be considered either a seasonal or non-seasonal reaction depending on exposure to the flea or the ingested protein. Symptoms can wax and wane during the non-seasonal or year-round exposure. The majority of atopic patients suffer year-round from allergic skin disease.

4. What can I do to help my itchy pet?

Having an itchy pet thoroughly evaluated by a veterinarian is the best option. Keeping a record of when the pet became itchy, duration of the itchiness, and what makes it worse proves very helpful for diagnosis, especially when combined with a proper dermatologic exam. There are a variety of therapeutic options once allergic skin disease is diagnosed. Avoiding the allergen (food allergy), medical management (flea, food, and atopy), and controlling the environment (flea and atopy) are examples of ways to address the allergic pet and any secondary infections. In addition, topical shampoos, leave-on lotions, and sprays may help mildly itchy pets by removing the offending allergen from the skin and rebuilding the skin barrier. Essential fatty acids may be given orally to improve skin function. Medications such as antihistamines, steroids, and immune-modulating drugs are specifically designed to address the itch and manage the atopic pet. A food trial may be required for the food allergic pet, and proper consistent parasite control is crucial for every pet with allergic skin disease. With any of these options, be sure to discuss with your veterinarian before starting a treatment plan.