All vets in Markham are getting busy this time of year with pets during allergy season. However, the symptoms of allergies in animals are different than those humans show in reaction to many of the same airborne allergens. Humans sneeze and develop runny eyes in response to airborne allergens, such as grass and other plant pollens, pets experience itchiness.
Animals have skin irritations.
As a practising veterinarian in Markham, we explain allergies to our clients a little simplified: Allergies are when the immune system of the body starts defending against harmless environmental things.
How can you tell if your pet has an allergy?
An allergic pet shows the following signs of allergy:
- itching and scratching
- chewing the paws
- itchy face
- inflamed ears (ear infection)
- anal sac inflammation
What are the most common causes of allergy symptoms?
Oftentimes, the most common allergens are harmless things found within the environment. There are millions of possibilities. In our Markham vet clinic, we try to narrow down the many possibilities down into three groups:
1. Contact Allergies
2. Inhalant Allergies
3. Food Allergies
In this veterinary blog, we focus only on the first two forms of allergies. They are sometimes called atopy or allergic inhalant dermatitis and are a reactions towards something usually harmless. They are very common both in the Markham area and at our veterinary hospital. In most cases, this allergy becomes a lifelong problem that cause significant frustration for you and for your pet.
What could your pet be allergic to?
The most common causes are pollens of grasses, trees, and shrubs in the outdoors, and house dust mites and mold. When plants are in season, then the pet who is reacting to the pollens is itching worse. For instance, veterinarians in Markham know that in the fall Ragweed pollens are strongest and they are a common allergen. In spring veterinarians see more grass and tree pollen allergies.
Indoor allergies like house dust mite allergies have no distinct seasonality. The pet itches year round and sometimes worse in the winter when the forced air system blows through the house.
In addition to atopy, fleas are a significant cause of skin allergy, and foods can even be a source of the allergy problem.
What your veterinarian can do to diagnose allergies.
As you may already guess, veterinarians often get the first clues by asking thorough questions about the seasonality of allergic symptoms. Veterinarians also recommend to have some allergy tests done to identify which allergen your pet is reacting to. In our veterinary clinic, we find often several allergies in one pet, which explains the year round waxing and waning nature of the symptoms. For instance a pet with mold allergy will itch all year, but during grass allergy season she may develop more severe symptoms like an ear infection.
Luckily, veterinarians have many treatments available to minimize itching and scratching:
Traditionally we have done one or more of the following allergy treatments.
- Elimination of the cause: I can clearly remember a German Shepherd dog who chewed his skin raw every summer. An ELISA Allergy test showed a strong reaction to Cedar Trees. Together with the owner we scrutinized the environment and found that there were some Cedar wood chips in the backyard. He replaced the chips with something else and the dog was no longer scratching and biting himself. Veterinarians elsewhere will tell you that elimination of the allergen is the best cure. This is however not always possible.
- Avoidance: minimizing exposure to trees, shrubs, and grasses, as well as using a high quality air purifier in sleeping areas can help with allergy symptoms. For instance, the highest concentration of house dust mites is in the bedroom – in the mattresses. Pets who sleep on their owner’s bed should get their own sleeping area downstairs with a mattress that is covered in a plastic liner.
- Topical treatment aids:
- Water: Cool water baths soothe skin and rinse away allergens.
- Colloidal oatmeal shampoos and rinses
- Antihistamines and anti-inflammatory sprays on the affected areas. Antihistamines decrease scratching with minimal side effects.
- Antibiotics: Veterinarians use them for the secondary skin infections that happen with allergies. Remember, the immune system is dealing with a false alarm and is not paying attention to normally harmless skin bacteria leaving them to grow out of control.
- Diet: There are food allergies, which we do not cover in this article. However some diets have increased levels of inflammation inhibiting fatty acids which help controlling the itch. These diets are available from your veterinarian.
- Essential fatty acids help as supplements. It’s important to chose a product that has been clinially tested. Your veterinarian will give you recommendations.
- Immunotherapy: You’ve done the allergy testing and know now what your pet is allergic to, you can order a specific serum that teaches your pet’s immune system to live with the allergens without hyperreacting. This is called desensitization. In the past this was done by injections, but now veterinarians can order oral sprays that show promising effects.
- Cyclosporine: Anti-rejection medication that also has a powerful effect on itching
- Glucocorticoids: Strong anti-itching properties that are safe when used intermittently in small doses.
Here’s the good news!
While the above treatments are still being used and valid, there are two new treatments which are much more effective and reduce itching very rapidly.
1. Janus Kinase Inhibitors. This is a tablet that very specifically stops an body reaction and suppresses the building of itch molecules. It is so effective that often the dog stops itching on the first day of treatment. What a relief for them and for the owners!
2. IL31 antibodies: A monthly injection will stop the itch without any of the side effects we see with the older treatments. These injections are an excellent solution for dogs who have contact or inhalant allergies. They do not work for food allergies.
Speak to a veterinarian if you suspect your animal is exhibiting symptoms of allergies in order to diagnose and devise a plan of treatment.
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Dr. Ernst Marsig, veterinarian in Markham
Practicing Veterinary Medicine in Markham for the Long and Happy Life of ALL Your Pets.
Animal Hospital of Unionville, a veterinary clinic on the north side of Hwy 7, serving all pets in Markham, Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Stouffville, and North York since 1966. We are your family vets for dogs, cats, pocket pets (rabbits, chinchillas, gerbils, mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, skinny pigs, etc.), ferrets, and birds (budgies, cockatiel, parrots, amazon, cockatoo, love birds, conures, African greys, finches, canaries, etc.).
Disclaimer: No part of this website constitutes medical advice. Readers are advised to consult with their veterinarian.