Does your dog spend a lot of time licking or scratching instead of sleeping? Does your cat pull out its hair? Both of these clinical signs can be due to allergies. Unlike humans who often
sneeze and have a runny nose with allergies, dogs and cats more commonly have itchy skin. They may spend a lot of time scratching or pulling out their hair, often have red skin in their armpits and underbelly or between their toes, or may have recurrent ear infections or problems with
their anal glands.
Allergies are an abnormal reaction of the body’s immune system to something in the environment or diet. Food allergies are commonly an allergic reaction to the protein in the diet, for example chicken. Although many dog owners are concerned about grain in their pet’s diet, most dogs do well with grain. It is a good source of fiber and only a small percentage of dogs have a grain allergy. Feeding a grain free diet comes with a potential risk. Some dogs fed a grain free diet will develop a heart condition called nutritional dilated cardiomyopathy, so I do NOT recommend feeding a grain free diet. However, feeding a diet with a novel protein (like venison) can be helpful for dogs with a protein allergy. Alternatively, some veterinary diets have a hydrolyzed protein that is not recognized by the immune system- many pets with food allergies do well with this option.
Environmental allergies may cause seasonal clinical signs. For example, allergies to dust mites can be worse in the winter when our furnace is running more often, but allergies to grass will obviously be worse in the summer. Because some environmental allergens are difficult to avoid, medications can be used to control the associated inflammation and itching. Two medications that are very effective for treating environmental allergies are Apoquel and Cytopoint. Apoquel is an oral medication that is given daily. It prevents the production of a cell mediator that initiates the itch and inflammation of allergies. Cytopoint is an antibody that effectively neutralizes the protein causing the itch/inflammation of allergies. Cytopoint is an injection that is typically given every 4-6 weeks. These are just a couple tools that we can use to control allergies.
Some other tools that can be used to control allergies include oral skin supplements that help
fortify the skin’s natural barrier, oral antibiotics to control secondary bacterial skin infections, and topical mousse or sprays to condition the skin or control superficial yeast/bacterial infections. Some dogs do very well with immunotherapy. This means a veterinary dermatologist can test your dog for environmental allergens and then develop an allergen specific ‘vaccine’ to decrease your dog’s sensitivity.
Unfortunately, there is not a cure for allergies and most patients require lifelong therapy. Dogs with mild allergies may only need one tool to be comfortable, but some dogs need all the tools in the tool box! Work with your veterinarian to develop the best plan for your pet.