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Stop the Scratch: Managing Your Pet's Seasonal Allergies



Vets get a huge number of calls about pet allergies this time of year — a whopping 25% of all pet patients seen through TeleTails have allergy complaints. Summer corresponds with a rise in allergies for two reasons: Warm weather means pets go outside more often, where dogs and cats will encounter allergy-causing plants are in full bloom.


Pets suffer from many of the same types of allergies as humans. For instance, many pets with allergies develop atopic dermatitis, a skin condition that shows up as an itchy red rash — a condition called eczema in humans. Luckily, we can diagnose allergies in pets fairly easily, and once treated, they’ll enjoy a big step up in their quality of life. Consulting with a vet may also improve the owner’s quality of life — one study also drew a connection between atopic dermatitis and behavioral problems, including excitability, begging for food, and excessive grooming.


But this is not a moment for Dr. Google. Some symptoms of allergies can also be a symptom of more serious diagnoses, so professional evaluation is a must. For instance, red eyes could be a sign of a dust allergy — but they could be caused by an glaucoma, or an ulcer. Both of those conditions require immediate intervention. Getting professional help saves clients from wasting time and money on remedies that may only prolong their pet’s suffering.


What Causes Allergies in Pets?


Habitats can make a big difference. Dogs in rural areas have lower rates of allergies than dogs in urban areas, likely because they are exposed to a wider variety of allergens. If you suspect your pet of having allergies, close the windows to keep pollen out. With the windows closed, you’ll want to turn your air-conditioning on — keep in mind that changing the air-conditioning filter can also cut down on allergens, as can adding a HEPA filter to get rid of dust and mold particles.


What To Look For — Signs and Symptoms


Allergies can manifest through a wide array of symptoms.


Itching is a clear sign of allergies, but all dogs and cats scratch. So how can clients tell allergies apart from normal behavior? If a dog or cat is experiencing an excessive itch, they’ll stop what they’re doing to lick, bite, or chew on themselves. On a scale of 1 to 10, if the intensity of scratching is a 6 or higher, it’s worth consulting with a vet.


Pet and human allergies often have environmental causes. Pollen can cause a pet’s nasal passages to become inflamed, and dust in the air can make their eyes water. Irritants like these are often the cause of sneezing, as well as “reverse sneezing,” the term used to describe the snorting spell that can occasionally overtake a dog (especially if they are a smaller breed). Ear infections are also more common in pets with allergies to dust, mold, and pollen.


Allergies can also cause red or brown discoloration on the paws and between toe pads, a condition called pododermatitis. For obvious reasons, dogs with pododermatitis will focus a lot of licking and chewing at their inflamed, itchy paws. This is another perfect example of a symptom that might indicate a straightforward environmental allergy, or something more difficult to treat, like a bacterial or fungal infection.


Treatment Options


Pets with allergies often need medication to treat inflammation, as well as medication for the bacterial or fungal infection caused by chewing and scratching their damaged skin. Veterinarians often prescribe a two-pronged solution, with medicines to treat both the infection as well as the allergy. Treatments need to be carefully balanced, and it can take some trial and error to find the right blend.


Over-the-Counter Medications


  • Ceramide-based shampoo can help treat atopic dermatitis in pets. (Ceramide is a type of fatty acid that helps repair irritated skin.) In order for this treatment to work, the pet has to regularly bathe with the shampoo, so this won’t be ideal for pets who hate baths.


  • Small doses of over-the-counter antihistamines, like Benadryl and Claritin, can treat pet allergies. But clients should keep in mind — Claritin D is toxic for pets. The “D” (confusingly) stands for pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that can poison pets.

Prescription Medication


  • Prescription shampoos can treat atopic dermatitis, and it’s more effective than shampoos with just ceramide. These shampoos contain the ingredients chlorhexidine and phytosphingosine — chlorhexidine is an antiseptic that kills fungi, and phytosphingosine is a naturally occurring lipid that can help damaged skin heal.


  • Anti-inflammatory pills can also work. It’s important for vets to taper the dosage of anti-inflammatory medicines Atopica and Apoquel, both highly effective medications with success rates of 70% to 80%. The downside: they can both have serious side effects if not administered properly.


  • Since some dogs won’t cooperate with pills, injectables like Cytopoint can provide your dog with weeks of relief from their allergic symptoms.

Pet Owners Are Making a Difference


In the past few years, more patients have visited their vet to help treat their animal’s allergy symptoms. This trend may be promising — an increase in allergies aside, experts believe more pet owners are recognizing their pet’s discomfort and seeing it as a problem that merits attention. Once patients get their treatment plan, meeting with a vet over TeleTails to manage their symptoms can help pets have a great quality of life all summer long.

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