Pet Allergies: Is Your Pet’s Licking and Scratching Driving You Nuts?

Unlike people, our pets rarely sneeze or show signs similar to hay fever. Instead, our pets are itchy and they will do anything to relieve that sensation. It is important to remember that external parasites or even food allergies can cause very similar symptoms. Your veterinarian must help you distinguish between flea bite allergies, food allergies or atopy.

When allergies occur, the skin produces more sebum, which is an oily material that causes a musty odor. Once the itching and scratching are controlled, the odor and seborrhea also clear up. Skin odor may also be caused by a skin or ear infection, which may require antibiotic treatment in addition to the allergy treatment.

Many pets benefit from frequent bathing with special hypoallergenic shampoos. Research shows that some allergens are absorbed through the skin; frequent bathing may help reduce the amount of allergen that the patient absorbs. Some of the special shampoos incorporate omega fatty acids, which may be absorbed through the skin and help reduce the itching.

In order to determine the exact cause of your pet’s itching, allergy tests will be required. Approximately 80% of allergy diagnoses can be confirmed by allergy testing. There are two primary methods of allergy testing. The traditional allergy test is called intra-dermal allergy testing and consists of injecting a tiny amount of allergen into the skin. If the body produces a response to the allergen, the body is said to be allergic to that substance. A more recently developed allergy test involves taking a blood sample, and is called IgE allergy testing. The blood is evaluated for the presence of IgE antibodies against specific food allergens. If it contains a high number of these IgE antibodies, an allergy to that allergen is presumed to exist. Your veterinarian will discuss the best type of testing for your pet’s condition.

Once the diagnosis has been made, it may be possible to desensitize the pet to the offending allergens. This involves the use of specific allergen injections that will be formulated for your pet according to the results of the allergy tests. The theory behind hyposensitization or “allergy shots” is that the controlled injections of increasing amounts of the offending allergens will “reprogram” the pet’s immune system and lessen its hypersensitivity. For most pets, these “allergy injections” result in significantly reduced itching.

General symptoms that require a visit to your veterinarian:

  • Itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin
  • Increased scratching
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Itchy back or base of tail (most commonly flea allergy)
  • Itchy ears and ear infections
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
  • Paw chewing/swollen paws
  • Constant licking
  • Discolored hair

Dogs with chronic skin infections or allergies should be tested for hypothyroidism. If your pet has hypothyroidism, desensitization therapy and anti-inflammatory medications will often fail to help your pet unless the hypothyroid condition is also treated.

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