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Spring is in the air again and many people are dealing with seasonal allergies (you can tell by the increased antihistamine commercials on television).   Cats and dogs can also experience allergies.  Allergy is defined as a state of hypersensitivity in which exposure to a harmless substance known as an allergen induces the body’s immune system to “overreact”.  The incidence of allergies is increasing in both humans and their pets.  Some studies have linked allergies to genetics and some breeds of dogs are more predisposed to allergies than other breeds.  Purebred cats are also predisposed to allergies.  Allergies often manifest as itchy skin, ear infections, poor coat quality or even hot spots.

COMMON ALLERGIES

POLLEN – This a very common allergy.  Symptoms typically include chewing and licking at the forepaws, weepy eyes, shaking the head, itchy ears, scratching armpits with rear legs, rubbing the face on the ground and scratching the back on the ground.  Pollen allergies can be seasonal in nature.

FLEA ALLERGY – Flea allergic dermatitis is the most common skin disease seen in dogs and cats.   This allergy is caused by the flea’s saliva and it only takes a few bites to induce the problem.  The symptom most noted is chewing the rump on the midline and not to either side.  Because flea allergy is so common, we recommend that year-round flea control be maintained for all allergy patients.

STAPH – These pets show anything from red bumps to large, circular spots of hair loss that start on the  belly and move up to the back.  This allergy is usually secondary to one of the other allergies.

FOOD – This the hardest allergy to diagnose.  Many people erroneously assume itching due to food allergy is because of a recent diet change of some sort.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Food allergy requires time to develop; most animals have been eating the offending food for years with no trouble.  The symptoms tend to start at middle age or later, are not seasonal and respond poorly to corticosteroids.  A veterinary supervised food trial with a hypoallergenic diet for 12 to 16 weeks is the best way to diagnose this.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering whether or not your pet has an allergy.

When did the itching start?

Are any other animals in the house affected?

Are people in the house affected?

Are the symptoms seasonal or nonseasonal?

Have the symptoms changed on remained the same?

How many times a day do you observe your pet scratching?

Does your pet scratch all over its body or focus on a few specific areas?

Is the itching worse in the morning or the same throughout the day?

Does the pet lick its paws?

Does the pet travel or has it been boarded or groomed recently?

The answers to these questions will help your veterinarian determine if your pet is having allergies.  If you suspect your pet has allergies, you should schedule a visit to the veterinarian for discussion of treatment options.

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