Allergies occur in animals just like in people, but are more common in dogs than cats. People’s symptoms often involve congestion and sneezing, which can occur in canines and felines as well. However, animals more typically present with symptoms affecting the skin and ears. I routinely see skin problems on a daily basis that are allergy related, especially in the Spring and Summer months.
Symptoms can occur year round or seasonally depending on the underlying trigger(s). At the skin, pet owners may notice many different things including hair loss, moisture, inflammation, bumps, scabs, and others. Pets often will scratch, lick, and chew at many locations of the body. At the ears there can be inflammation, closing down of the canals, odor, discharge, and head shaking. The ears are really just an extension of the skin.
Allergies occur because the body responds to something that is not a true threat, such as grass, as if it were a danger to the body like a virus or bacteria. Often this reaction becomes worse over time if exposure continues. Pets can react to many things in the environment such as trees, grass, fungi, and weeds. Insects are also a major aspect of allergies, with many patients reacting to fleabites. Indoor allergies can also be an issue, with animals reacting to different fabrics, cleaners and/or detergents, carpets, etc. Food is another source of potential problems.
Allergies may be treated in several different ways depending on the severity and frequency of the problem. Often this is a chronic issue that is managed to try to control symptoms as opposed to curing a problem.
Steroids may be used in initially for immediate relief of itching. Until the itching is controlled, animals won’t stop traumatizing their skin, and won’t feel comfortable. E collars and clothing can also be used to help stop skin trauma. Steroids are not recommended for long-term use because of potential side effects. Other immune modulating medications such as Cyclosporine may be used for long term in more severe cases. Antihistamines are often used in milder cases for more long-term control. Omega 3 fatty acids can help with inflammation. Antibiotics may be needed to treat infection. Antifungal medications may also be recommended. Medicated shampoos can also help to kill bacteria and yeast, as well as help manage other skin issues. Topical medicated sprays can also help. Allergy testing either via intradermal or serum can help to identify the underlying allergens, and a formulation can be made into injections to help train the body to no longer react to the allergens. Some companies are just starting to make oral formulations as well. A novel protein diet trial may also be suggested. All patients with allergies should be on monthly flea control as well. Indoor/outdoor spraying may be needed as well for patients with severe flea allergies.
Ear treatment can also involve multiple approaches. Your veterinary clinic will clean your pet’s ears initially, and may recommend to do so under sedation. For severely painful ears, this may not be able to be done until the inflammation and pain is better controlled. Routine cleaning with an ear cleaner is essential, at least 1-2 times a week depending on the severity of the problem. Don’t use water as it can promote the growth of yeast. Don’t use peroxide, as it can be very harsh and damaging to the lining of the ears. Your veterinarian will send home a topical ear treatment depending on the suspected pathogen. Oral antibiotics may be recommended. An ear culture may be needed in more severe cases to identify the pathogen as well as what medication should be used to treat it. In some cases, an infection can cross the eardrum into the inner ear. These can be very challenging to manage, and a referral to a dermatologist may be suggested.
Alternative treatments may also be recommended. Chinese herb combinations are made that help the skin depending on if there is an issue with moisture, or with dryness. Acupuncture can be used to help regulate the skin as well. Laser is a great way to stimulate the body to heal a wound such as a hot spot; it really speeds up healing time, and provides comfort more quickly.
Severe allergies with secondary wounds are not something that a pet owner should be trying to manage on their own with over the counter products. Small wounds can rapidly expand within 1-2 days of intense scratching, and if left untreated can result in systemic infections. Your canine or feline will be much more comfortable more quickly when receiving the correct treatment, and your veterinarian can help you formulate a strategy to help prevent further allergy outbreaks. Your veterinarian may recommend a referral to a dermatologist for difficult cases.