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How to Help a Dog or Cat with Allergic Dermatitis

How to Help a Dog or Cat with Allergic Dermatitis

Dogs and cats often develop allergic dermatitis when they are exposed to allergens. Our Villa Rica veterinarians discuss ways you can recognize the different types of allergic dermatitis in pets and how they are treated.

Allergies in Dogs & Cats

When pets develop allergic reactions, they often develop skin reactions or gastrointestinal symptoms, not like humans who typically develop nasal symptoms and hives. This is because, in their skin, dogs and cats have a higher amount of mast cells that release histamines and other vasoactive substances when they encounter or are exposed to allergens. When this happens, pets can develop symptoms such as hot spots, itching and scratching, poor coat condition, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain/ discomfort, and flatulence. If your dog has thyroid disease their condition may be worsened. 

When pets have allergic dermatitis or atopic dermatitis, they have an inherited predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a usually harmless substance (allergen) that they are repeatedly exposed to. Most of the time pets start developing signs of having allergies when they are between 1 and 3 years old.

Common Types of Allergies in Dogs & Cats

Below we have listed some of the most common allergies in dogs and cats:

Food Allergies

Most food-allergic cats are allergic to the protein in the food, not the grain source. This means that corn and wheat aren’t typically a problem for cats. The most common food allergies in cats are chicken and fish.

Even if your dog has been eating the same brand of food for months, it can suddenly develop an allergy to it. It doesn't matter if their food is the most inexpensive brand available or one that is high-quality, if they are allergic to any ingredient in their food, they can develop symptoms. However, premium dog foods sometimes don't include as many filler ingredients, which could be the source of an allergy.

Flea Allergies

A flea allergy is triggered by a reaction to a flea’s saliva. Cats who live exclusively indoors are just as susceptible to fleas as cats who go outside because fleas can live anywhere in the environment.

When dogs have fleas and develop allergic reactions, they are allergic to a protein in the flea's saliva and not the flea itself. Dogs that are only occasionally exposed to fleas are more likely to develop symptoms than dogs that are continuously exposed to these external parasites.

Contact & Inhalent Allergies

Environmental allergies are commonly triggered by pollens, molds, dust spores, and dander. These are all substances that can be found on the ground and in the air. We commonly call an allergy to substances in the environment “atopic dermatitis.”

Similar to people, dogs can be allergic to substances such as mold, pollen, trees, weeds, and dust mites. You can figure out which one your dog may have an allergy to by paying close attention to when the symptoms develop. If your dog's symptoms are seasonal, pollen could be the culprit, and if your pooch's symptoms occur all year, they may be allergic to mold.

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

Dogs develop bacterial hypersensitivity when their immune system overreacts to the normal Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria on their skin. And, when dogs have bacterial hypersensitivity specific unique changes are happening microscopically in the blood vessels of their skin. Your veterinarian can diagnose this condition with a bacterial culture and by examining a biopsy sample.

Dogs that already have other conditions such as hypothyroidism, an inhalant allergy, and/or a flea allergy are more likely to develop bacterial hypersensitivity.

Diagnosing Pets With Allergic Dermatitis

The most reliable way to diagnose your pet with an allergy is to conduct an allergy test, and there are several types of these tests available. The most common is a blood test that looks for antigen-induced antibodies in the blood.

There is also intradermal skin testing, which is where a portion of a dog or cat's skin is shaved so a small amount of antigen can be injected into it. After a designated time, the skin is examined for a small raised reaction so the offending allergens can be identified.

Treating Allergic Dermatitis

The specific treatment used for your pet's allergy will be determined by the specific allergen causing their symptoms. Your pet's treatment could consist of one or more of the following:

  • Immunotherapy (hypo-sensitization) can also be referred to as allergy shots. Hypersensitizing injections are specially manufactured for your pet's specific allergy in a lab and are given regularly (frequency depends on your pet's specific case). While this method is often highly successful, it can take 6 to 12 months for there to be any visible improvement. 
  • Medicated baths with shampoos containing antimicrobial and antifungal agents as well as other ingredients can help soothe the injured skin, reduce inflammation, and remove allergens.
  • Flea control regimes can help prevent and get rid of fleas. To keep fleas from thriving on your pet, your veterinarian may recommend giving your pet flea medications.
  • Antihistamines might be able to help control your pet's symptoms, however, they don't always work. On the other hand, if antihistamines are effective, this is could be an affordable option that typically has a very low risk of side effects.
  • Hypoallergenic diets can either remove, replace, or reduce the food ingredient your dog or cat is allergic to.
  • Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents should only be used to manage your pet's itching and scratching as a last resort when the allergy season is short or to relieve extreme discomfort (and in small quantities). This method can cause side effects such as increased urination, increased thirst and appetite, jaundice of the skin, and changes in behavior. Long-term use of this method could result in conditions such as diabetes or decreased resistance to infection.
  • Controlling your pet's environment could be the best way to manage your pet's allergy if you are aware of the allergen and can remove it or minimize their exposure to it effectively. Even if your pet is on another medication, it is still best to reduce their exposure to the allergen if possible.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

For more information about your pet's allergic dermatitis, contact our Villa Rica veterinarians today and schedule an appointment.

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