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  • Tara Jarussirirat

Scratch That Itch - Environmental Allergies

Updated: May 17, 2022

RVT Tara's dog Bubba - isn't he a handsome chap!?

It’s finally springtime and with warmer weather can come symptoms of allergies in our pets. It has been exactly 3 years since my dog Bubba J, started scratching at the first signs of spring. And so began our journey through anti-itch medications, veterinary dermatologists (yes you read it right, there are dermatologists for our pets), allergy testing, immunotherapy injections and frequent bathing.

Pet allergies have been on the rise, and it feels like we are seeing more of these pets in practice each year. When we first suspected that Bubba had allergies, I was determined to get down to the bottom of it as quick as I could. Since Bubba had pet insurance it was a no brainer for me to

take him to a Board-Certified Veterinary Dermatologist. So off we went. During Bubba’s initial consultation, a thorough exam of his eyes, ears and skin was performed. Based on his medical history, symptoms, age (he had just turned 2), and physical exam findings Bubba was diagnosed with Atopic Dermatitis (Environmental Allergies).

Chocolate Labrador Bubba at his first dermatology appointment
Bubba at his first dermatology appointment

Atopic dermatitis in dogs and cats is a common allergic skin disease associated with elevated immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody levels in response to environmental allergens. It is a chronic relapsing skin condition that is prone to flare ups upon exposure to allergens and can increase in intensity and severity with age. In atopic dermatitis, airborne pollens, molds, dust particles etc. gain entry to the skin through a defective skin barrier. The immune system becomes inflamed by the airborne allergens and soon the itching and scratching begins.

A treatment plan for Bubba was developed which involved serum and intradermal allergy testing and immunotherapy (allergy shots). The intradermal allergy test is performed to try and identify offending allergens, while the serum allergy tests measure circulating allergen specific IgE antibodies. Bubba was sedated to avoid any discomfort and a rectangular area of his hair was clipped on the side of his chest. Within a grid layout his skin was injected with small amounts of environmental allergens. Some of these allergens included house dust mites, storage mites, pollens (trees, grasses and weeds) fleas, yeast and moulds. Within 15-25 minutes, redness and swelling is evident at the site of positive reactions. Bubba tested positive to a variety of weed, tree and grass pollens, indoor/outdoor molds, insects, as well as cat dander and wool. Bubba has 3 cat siblings and lives a very active outdoor lifestyle with daily games of fetch. Bubba was allergic to his life. Bubba’s blood was also collected for the serum allergy testing and sent away to a lab for analysis. Based on the complete set of allergy test results, immunotherapy was formulated to desensitize him to these allergens, since avoidance was not possible for most of Bubba J's allergens. Bubba may have disagreed, but the cats were not going anywhere.

Chocolate Labrador Bubba has a small patch of hair missing after his allergy testing.
Bubba - A few days after testing

Immunotherapy is a process in which offending allergens are administered as drops under the tongue or injected subcutaneously in gradually increasing amounts to induce tolerance. The main benefit of immunotherapy is its ability to reduce the severity of the allergic skin disease, and thereby reduce the reliance on symptom-relieving drugs.

I opted for the immunotherapy injections for Bubba, being an RVT giving injections is second nature to me. I put my Low Stress Handling Certification to work and used counter conditioning and desensitization to train Bubba to receive his injections. Over 2 years later, Bubba sees the vial come out of the fridge and immediately gets excited for what it is about to happen.

He is currently getting his injections every 2 weeks and will likely continue with them for life. We have managed to reduce his dependency on anti-itch medications, and we currently bath him once a month. We do our best to reduce the amount of allergens in Bubba’s environment. If you have been looking for a reason to invest in a robot vacuum this is it. We run the vacuum daily to help with the amount of dust, dirt and cat hair in our house. We wash bedding and blankets frequently and we try to keep Bubba indoors when the pollen counts are high. We have had minor flare ups along the way but on the whole Bubba is doing fantastic. The biggest compliment Bubba receives is that he doesn’t look like an allergy dog! Bubba now visits the dermatologist every 9 months for a re-check exam and review of his treatment plan. With a great veterinary team and treatment plan tailored to your individual pet, it is possible to manage environmental allergies.

Chocolate Labrador Bubba is enjoying his time in an outside pool.
Happy Bubba - playing in his pool

If your pet is exhibiting excessive scratching, it’s best to get them evaluated by a veterinarian soon to avoid the development of secondary infections that can result from excessive scratching. Give our client care team a call to schedule your pet for a health examination. We can develop a long-term plan to manage the underlying allergy and assist with a referral to a dermatologist. Scratching is no fun for them or for you. We are here to help!

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