As we head into hay fever season, be aware that your pet is just as prone to allergies as you are.
Pets just like humans, can develop allergies and skin conditions throughout the year, however springtime is when they are more common. Dry skin is usually the first indication of a much larger problem which can be associated with a wide range of conditions such as allergies, parasites or serious medical conditions.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is a state of hypersensitivity of the immune system to a particular substance called an allergen. These allergens can be routinely found in food, in seasonal and environmental allergies such as pollen, dust, feathers, grass, animal dander as well as parasites such as fleas, mites or lice.
Skin allergies can affect any dog or cat regardless of age and sex, however certain breeds can be more susceptible to skin issues. Certain breeds such as Staffordshire Terriers, English Australian and French Bulldogs, Sharpeis, West Highland Terriers, Chinese Crested, Sphynx Cats and Devon Rex Cats.
How does my pet’s immune system respond?
Exposure to allergens sensitizes the immune system and with repeated exposure to the same or related allergen, this can cause an over-reaction. The immune system response to allergies is quite complex and involves allergen protein molecules combining with antibodies in the blood. These molecules then attach to a mast cell which are commonly found in other body tissues. As the antigen and antibody react with the mast cell, the mast cell releases histamines, thus causing local inflammation, swelling, itching and redness. A pet may have multiple types of an allergy such as atopy and food, making the diagnosis of a skin condition very challenging.
A wide range of symptoms can be displayed by pets with skin conditions and allergies. The most common being:
- Excessive itching and scratching either localised (one area) or generalised (all over the body).
- Dandruff and flaky skin.
- Excessive grooming or over grooming eg pulling out fur.
- Hair loss.
- Respiratory changes such as coughing, sneezing, wheezing.
- Watery eyes and eye infections such as conjunctivitis.
- Ear infections, reddened ears.
- Paw chewing.
- Skin inflammation and redness.
- Gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhoea.
Fleas, lice and mites are external parasites that can infest your pet and cause skin related issues. Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) is one of the most skin diseases in pets and results from an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva during feeding. FAD can develop even without a heavy flea infestation and can develop with only 1-2 adult fleas present on the body.
Contact Allergies result from direct contact to skin and cause skin irritation and itching. These can be more common to types of grasses, plants, bedding materials or pesticides. Usually the removal of the allergen once identified often solves the problem.
Atopy is used as a synonym for an inhalant allergy. Many of these allergies occur seasonally such as grass pollens, weed pollens, mould and mildew. However, some of these can occur all year round such as house dust mites. When pets inhale these allergens this can result in runny nose and sneezing but primarily manifests with itchy skin otherwise known as pruritis.
Food allergies are becoming more common with many pets developing food hypersensitivity to proteins and carbohydrates. Dairy products, beef, chicken, chicken eggs, lamb, soy, wheat gluten are commonly associated with food allergies in dogs. Food allergy treatment is usually by an elimination trial using a hypoallergenic diet. This takes around 8 weeks for all other food products to be eliminated from the body. This diet is to be fed exclusively otherwise the trial will be invalid.
Skin or hair changes may also be indicative of something more serious such as an underlying medical conditions such as Cushings Disease aka Hyperadrenocorticism or Hyperthyroidism. Cushings disease (an increase in the activity of the adrenal glands) can cause skin changes, such as darkening of skin color or pigment, hair loss and seborrhea (oily dandruff). Hyperthyroidism is an increase in the activity of the thyroid gland and is mainly seen in cats. This can also cause hair loss and diminished hair growth. Both of these conditions can be diagnosed with a blood test.
There are multiple ways that we as veterinary professionals can help you if your pet has itchy skin.
Our fantastic grooming team can help your pet by advising you how often brushing, bathing and grooming should occur.
Our knowledgeable vet nurses can assist you in parasite control information and finding the right product for your pet. Our nurses can also help with nutrition information, skin diets and shampoos for those pets with food and skin hypersensitivities. Our nurses will also be fundamental in determining whether your pet needs to see a veterinarian for a skin consultation.
Lastly our veterinarians with their wealth of experience, will be able to diagnose and provide treatment for your pet, should they need it for a skin condition or allergy. Treatment plans for each pet can vary and may take rigorous schedules of medication, shampoo baths, revisits and further testing. We can also always provide a referral to a veterinary dermatologist when necessary.
Please call 9416 3788 or come down to the clinic and speak to our friendly team.