How to know if your pet is allergic?
One of the most common reasons for a pet to go to a vet is for skin complaints. Spring and Summer are the worst times. Skin problems can be recurring and one of the most frustrating diseases for both owners and their pets!
Many skin complaints present in a similar way: hair loss, itching and sores. The aim of the Veterinarian is to find the cause, as then a treatment plan can be made. Careful listening to the history and a thorough examination of the whole pet is vital.
Dogs have a tendency to develop bacterial infections of the skin very easily.
This can appear as pimples, scaly circles, sores or hotspots. Longstanding skin irritations may develop a yeast infection as well. Many dogs with skin disease will also have ear infections. Infections of the skin and ears can usually be diagnosed simply in the clinic with sticky tape and a good microscope. Further tests can determine the correct antibiotic to use. Medicated shampoos such as Malaseb and Pyohex can help resolve skin infection and are great to use for long term infection control. These products are most effective when prescribed by your Veterinarian after diagnosing a particular type of infection.
So, treatment of the skin infection is relatively simple, as long as the medication course is completed. Ear infections pose a little more difficulty as often it requires general anaesthesia to enable access to clean the canals thoroughly. Follow up checks are vital to ensure resolution.
Clearing infection is the first stage. What is more challenging is determining the underlying problem that triggers the infection. If this problem is not addressed there will be a recurrence!
In young dogs this may be demodectic mange mites. Rarely, we see scabies mange mites. Older dogs may have a hormonal imbalance that triggers infection. If the skin problem appears particularly unusual your Vet may recommend a biopsy of the skin. However, the majority of our dogs with skin problems will have allergies.
Allergies! If only we knew what our pet is allergic too
- Fleas and other insects
- Atopy (environmental pollens, house dust, moulds etc)
- Food allergy (usually a meat protein or preservative)
- Contact hypersensitivity (includes Wandering Jew plant, carpet cleaners or chemicals)
This is where the real detective work starts. The age of the pet when the itch began, their breed, the regions most affected, the time of year that is worse, the previous response to treatments are all clues. The vet may initiate treatment trials to rule in or out some causes, for example a “flea trial” or a “food trial”. These need to be completed accurately to be able to draw a conclusion. If flea allergy is diagnosed, treatment will involve total flea control. If food allergy is diagnosed treatment will involve avoiding this food.
If the pet has not responded well to these trials, your Veterinarian may consider Atopy a likely diagnosis. These pets are also called atopic or to have atopic dermatitis. They have itch that comes and goes for reasons we cannot easily see. Often it involves chewing of the feet and rubbing the face, rashes on the belly and is often worse in the Spring. It usually begins in dogs between one and three years of age. Cortisone or prednisolone tablets will generally help the itch but are not a long term cure as the itch returns when the course of tablets finishes. New products Apoquel or Atopica can be useful as they have fewer side effects than prednisolone. Protective conditioners can be useful for inflamed and red skin. They can help reduce the ‘TEWL’ of trans epidermal water loss. Intradermal skin testing should be considered for long term management.
This requires referral to one of two skin specialists in Brisbane. The pet is sedated and hair clipped from the side. Dozens of tiny injections are made into the skin with a range of possible allergens. These are a tiny dose of plant pollen, house dust mite, and mould. It will also include insects such as flea saliva. The swelling reaction can then be measured to decide what the pet is actually allergic to. Only with this knowledge can a desensitisaton program be started. This is the best attempt to cure an atopic pet.
If your pet has been diagnosed as “having an allergy” you are already aware the management and treatment may be complex and ongoing. There may be more diagnostic tests available if he is not doing well and there may be more treatment options available than simply more cortisone.