Becker Animal Hospital | Pet Allergies
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Pet Allergies

Skin Allergies and Itching in Dogs and Cats

Allergies cause itchy skin in dogs and cats and are a very common problem here in South Texas. Allergies in animals present symptomatically as itchy skin and ear infections, whereas people have sinus problems. Allergies can be from the air, fleas, food, or from contact with grass, or any type of material that the pet may step or lie on. In cats, small bumps may appear on the head, neck, shoulders, and the tail-head area. We call this “military dermatitis” and it is usually caused by airborne allergens, or sometimes by the food.

1. Airborne allergies are the most common allergies seen in pets and people. The pet inhales the airborne allergen particle, like pollen or mold, which is then carried to the skin of the ears, lower back and feet and causes an intense itchy reaction. The pet scratches his body and creates areas of self trauma that show up as hair loss and red, inflamed, and sometimes even raw bloody skin. These are known as hotspots. High heat and humidity also contribute to the above condition.

Common allergens include cedar and oak trees, molds, grasses, ragweed, and even house dust mites. It varies pet to pet, and it can show up at anytime in the pets’ life-usually at 2-6 years of age. The body must see the allergen for a while before it over reacts to it, which is why allergies are usually seen in pets who are least 6 months or older.

Cortisone shots or pills are the most direct, effective, and simplest way to control and treat allergies. The cortisone shot can be given as often as once a month, but no more than five times a year. Cortisone pills are not as dramatic and thorough as the shot, but they work reasonably well and are very helpful for mild conditions or for older pets. Pets 8 years of age or older require blood work to check the gall bladder, liver, kidneys, sugar, and protein levels, as an abnormality in these areas may prevent the use of cortisone or other medicines.

2. Flea allergies present usually as hair loss on the lower back/tail head area, as the fleas cause severe itching and scratching. Often just using one of the premium flea products like Advantage, Frontline, Revolution, or Advantage Multi on a monthly basis year round may be enough to eliminate all the scratching, although airborne allergies may also be contributing to the reaction. Again, year round flea control is the solution for flea infestations.

3. Food allergies can present in a similar way to airborne allergies, with itchy skin and inflamed ears. For food allergies, a special diet of Duck and Potato, or Science Diet Z/D formula is available for both dog and cats. In 20-30% of pets this special diet is often helpful in removing or drastically reducing the reaction.

4. Contact allergies present as red, inflamed, itchy skin where the pet steps on or lies down on something that irritates the skin or feet. Grass is a common problem, and rarely a household product like the carpet or a wool blanket. Solutions are limited in these situations, as one must just avoid the allergic substance and contact. Cortisone shots and pills will relieve the itching.

Other treatments include antihistamine like Benadryl, fish oil fatty acid supplements, and sometimes just plain old corn oil. The antihistamines are at times mildly effective, while the fish oil supplements stops 20-50% of the itching, depending on the patient. The pet owner at home, as determined by allergy testing, can give actual allergy injections every 1-3 weeks for desensitization of the allergens in south Texas, and the testing and injections have varied results depending on the patient’s individual response.

As a last resort, moving out of Texas usually cures the allergies. People who do move usually report that their pet’s skin problems disappear rapidly. Cortisone shots seem to be the easiest and most effective way to control allergies, but all of the above can be used and have worked to some degree. We recommend that the pet owner use what is most effective and workable for the pet.