Itching, scratching, licking, sneezing: seasonal allergies in pets can be a huge pain. Seasonal allergies are incredibly common in pets. Symptoms range from mild sneezing and itching to full body hives and rashes. However with proper management with your veterinarian you can keep your pets allergies under control and help them enjoy summer!
What are allergies?
Allergies are an abnormal, overenthusiastic immune response to benign environmental particles called allergens. The immune system of normal animals ignores them. However the allergic animal’s immune system recognizes it as a threat and they release a chemical called histamine. Histamine calls in more inflammatory cells and precipitates a response causing inflammation in the skin and airway, leading to the symptoms you see.
Additionally with skin allergies there is a second component in many animals, abnormal skin barrier function. In a normal animal immune cells in the skin never see the allergens due to the skin barrier. Many allergic animal have abnormal skin barriers. This allow allergens to penetrate where immune cells can see them, precipitating the allergic reaction.
While there is no cure for seasonal allergies, they can be managed with lifestyle changes, diet and drugs.
Lifestyle changes include limiting exposure to certain allergens if the cause is known. While this is difficult, if you know your pet reacts to certain triggers, avoid them if possible.
Regular bathes can remove allergens from your pets coat and improve skin health. Do not use shampoos that remove skin oil. I like hypoallergenic oatmeal and aloe shampoos. Also do not bathe with soap more than once a week if possible. Inflamed feet are a result of chronic exposure to allergens. Rinse off your pet’s feet after it has ran through grass (especially if wet). This removes allergens and limits the reaction.
Good flea and tick control is important as well. Many animals with allergies are also allergic to fleas (even 1 can cause a reaction). Controlling them ensures this is not a component of your pet’s allergies.
A number diets on the market are aimed at improving immune function, skin health and decreasing reactions to allergens. We recommend Royal Canin skin support but there are other good brands as well.
If you do not want to switch your pet’s diet consider adding in a fish oil supplement. These are great sources of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, which will help improve the barrier function of your pets skin.
Finally when all else fails we can turn to drugs. Drug options include cytopoint, apoquel, anti-histamines, and glucocorticoids (steroids). Finally there is immunotherapy.
Anti-histamines:Many of these drugs, such as zrytec and benadryl, are used in people. They are useful, especially for flare ups, but need frequent dosing and may cause drowsiness. Make sure, as with any drug, that you talk to your veterinarian for correct guidelines and dosages.
Cytopoint: This once every 4-8 week injectable works at a single point in the inflammatory cascade. While it doesn’t work in all animals it has limited side effects. Many owners also enjoy the infrequent dosing.
Apoquel: Another newer drug, Apoquel is a daily tablet that works in more animals than cytopoint and has minimal side effects. (However it should not be given to animals undergoing cancer treatment, as it blunts the body’s own cancer fighting mechanisms).
Cyclosporine: A broad acting immunosupressive cyclosporine has less side effects than steroids but more than cytopoint or apoquel. It should not be used in any animal with an infection.
Steroids: Steroids are the heavy gun when it comes to treating allergies. They work great and are very cheap but have a large number of side effects. They are best used to get a severe flare up under control.
Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is the gold-standard of allergy treatments. It is the only one that works by re-modulating the immune system instead of suppressing it. Your pet first undergoes a skin test to determine what they are allergic to. Then these allergens are given in small amounts by regular injections. The goal is to tamper the bodies reactions to those allergens. Unfortunately, it usually comes with a hefty price tag and is not always successful.