Allergies in Pets

WHAT IS AN ALLERGY?

An allergy is a state of over-reaction hypersensitivity of the immune system of a pet to a particular substance called an allergen. Most allergens are proteins. The allergen protein may be of insect, plant or animal origin. The allergen may be inhaled, eaten or absorbed through the skin.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ALLERGIES IN PETS?

The most common symptom associated with allergies is itchy skin, either in one area or all over the body. Another group of symptoms involves the respiratory system with coughing, sneezing, and/or wheezing. Sometimes, there may be runny discharge from eyes or nose. The third manifestation involves the digestive system, and the dog or cat may vomit or have diarrhea.

HOW COMMON ARE ALLERGIES IN DOGS?

Unfortunately allergies are quite common in pets.

ARE ALLERGIES INHERITED?

Some allergies are inherited. The inherited trait is known as Atopy.

WHAT ARE THE COMMON ALLERGENS?

A very large number of substances can act as allergens. Most are proteins of insect, plant or animal origin. Examples of common allergens are pollens, mold spores, dust mites, shed skin cells, insect proteins such as flea saliva, wheat, corn, certain animal proteins and some medications.

WHAT IS CONTACT ALLERGY?

Contact allergy is the least common type of allergy in dogs. It results from direct contact to allergens contained in flea collars or bedding, such as pyrethrins or wool. If the dog is allergic to these substances, there will be skin irritation and itching at the points of contact. Removal of the allergen solves the problem.

WHAT IS FLEA ALLERGY AND HOW IS IT TREATED?

Flea allergys are the exaggerated inflammatory response to a flea bite. Flea saliva is the allergen. It is a common allergy of dogs and cats, although only a minority of pets becomes allergic. Most dogs experience minor irritation from fleabites. But the flea allergic pet will react to a single bite with severe local itching. It will bite and scratch itself and may remove large amounts of hair. Secondary bacterial infection may occur in the broken skin. The area most commonly involved is over the rump in the tail base region.

Because one flea can be a problem for the allergic dog, strict flea control is essential. Your veterinarian can give you tips on protecting you dog and cat from fleas.

WHAT ARE FOOD ALLERGIES AND HOW ARE THEY TREATED?

Food allergy can develop to almost any protein or carbohydrate component of food. It most commonly develops in response to the protein component of the food or a particular food origin; beef, pork, chicken, or turkey, are commonly associated with food allergies. Food allergies can become apparent at almost any age. Food allergies may produce any of the clinical signs such as itching, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress. Testing for specific food allergies requires test feeding with a special hypoallergenic diet. Because it takes at least eight weeks for all other food products to be removed from the body, the dog must eat the special diet exclusively for 8-12 weeks, if a positive response occurs, your veterinarian will advise you on how to proceed. If the diet is not fed exclusively, it will not be a valid test. All table food, treats or vitamins must be discontinued during the testing period. There may be problems with certain types of chewable tablets such as heartworm preventative. Your veterinarian will discuss this with you.

CAUTION:

The manifestation of allergies can be confused with other disorders, or combined with them. Therefore, do not attempt to diagnose your dog without professional assistance. If an allergy is diagnosed and identified, the whole family must follow your veterinarian’ advice very closely if success in controlling the problem is to be achieved.

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