Jun 21 2015

Allergies: Identify the Cause & Treat Effectively

When discussing allergies it is important to realize that they are a health problem that is never CURED, but rather one that is MANAGED. How successfully a pet’s allergies are managed is determined by whether the right treatment or combination of treatments are utilized. Communication between the client and veterinarian is the key to determining the true source of a pet’s allergies. Owner compliance in carrying out the treatment(s) necessary to manage the pet’s condition is essential to keeping them comfortable and symptom free. If you and your veterinarian feel your pet suffers from a form of allergies, then the following options may be able to help manage their symptoms



The most common allergy experienced by pets, flea allergy dermatitis is an allergic reaction caused by the exposure of a pet to flea saliva when bitten by the parasite.   Flea bite allergy is characterized by being a seasonal allergy that is worse during peak flea times in the summer and fall. Managing the symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis involves providing a pet with year round protection against fleas with products such as Frontline®, Revolution®, or Sentinel®.


In canines the first signs of atopic dermatitis usually occur between 6 months and 3 years of age.  Symptoms occur when a pet comes into contact with or inhale common allergens such as dust, pollen, or mold.  Allergic reactions to these allergens will often cause pets to scratch and chew at themselves worsening the skin inflammation already caused by the allergen.  This often results in lesions on the skin, hair loss, and sometimes secondary skin infections. Diagnosis can involve diagnostic tests such as allergy testing or treatment trials. Once a diagnosis is made, one or more treatment therapies may be necessary to successfully manage the condition.


Food allergies account for about 10% of all the allergies seen in dogs and cats. It is the third most common cause after flea bite allergies and atopic dermatitis. It is important to make a distinction as to whether a pet suffers from food allergies or food intolerance. Food allergies are true allergies and show the characteristic symptoms of itching and skin problems associated with canine and feline allergies. Food intolerances can result in diarrhea or vomiting and do not create a typical allergic response. Both food intolerances and allergies can be managed with a diet free from offending ingredients. Fortunately there are a variety of veterinary diets on the market offering pets an alternative source of proteins and other ingredients that may be more suitable to their body system.



Block histamines which are released by the body during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines commonly prescribed include diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), and hydroxyzine (Atarax). Antihistamines are inexpensive; however response to these medications by pets can vary.


Fatty acid supplements such as, Derm Caps®, work in the skin to help reduce the amount and effects of histamine and other chemicals that are released in response to allergies. Not every allergic pet responds to these supplements.

ATOPICA® (Cyclosporine Capsules)

Atopica® is a new option for pets suffering from atopic dermatitis. It offers owners an alternative from steroid use in their pets and specifically targets only those cells of the immune system that cause allergic reaction. Treatment with Atopica® begins with daily dosing; however this may gradually taper down as therapy progresses.


Steroids are usually administered in one of two forms, injectable and in tablet form. There are many different forms of corticosteroids currently available on the market. They vary widely in their duration of activity and strength. Steroids have a wide range of activity and affect several different systems within the body. They are closely involved with the skin, immune, and endocrine system. Common side-effects of steroids include increased water consumption, increased urination, and increased appetite. While they are highly effective in relieving the symptoms of allergies, long-term use of corticosteroids can increase the risk of a pet developing diabetes, adrenal gland disease, and liver disease. Commonly prescribed corticosteroids include short acting steroids such as hydrocortisone, intermediate acting steroids such as prednisone, and long acting steroids such as dexamethasone (Azium).


Allergy injections require that testing be performed to determine what allergens a patient needs to be treated for. Pets will be tested for environmental allergens- dust and molds, regional allergens- tree and grass pollens native to the region, as well as food allergies. Once a pet’s allergy profile has been determined serum can be ordered, to begin hyposensitization. Once that period is achieved the patient will remain on monthly maintenance therapy. Allergy immunotherapy can be expensive but it benefits the patient in that it directly targets the cause of the allergic reaction.


Prescription allergy diets aim at providing a pet with ingredients it’s body is not reactive to. A suitable diet can be chosen by one of two methods. First, if allergy testing has been performed the lab will provide lists of diets that it feels are best for a pet based on his or her allergen sensitivity profile. If testing is declined, another method of diet selection is to perform a food trial. A food trial consists of feeding an animal a novel food source of protein and carbohydrate for 12 weeks. An example of a novel food diet would be rabbit and rice, or venison and potato. For a trial to be accurate the special diet must be the only food source fed to that pet for the 12 week period. No treats should be offered at this time.  If the pet shows a marked reduction or elimination of the symptoms, then he or she is placed back on the original food. This is called “provocative testing” and is essential to confirm the diagnosis. If the symptoms return after going back on the original diet, the diagnosis of a food allergy is confirmed. If there has been no change in symptoms but a food allergy is still strongly suspected, then another food trial, using a different novel food source, should be tried.



This spring brings exciting news for pets suffering from allergies. Zoetis has launched a new class of medication approved for use in dogs, called Apoquel® that works to turn off the itch response that occurs in the presence of an allergen. The medication begins working in as few as four hours and can effectively control itch in 24 hours. Apoquel® safely provides relief without many of the side effects seen from corticosteroids.

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