When a pet scratches, bites or chews excessively, chances are it is suffering from an allergy. The cause of the allergy, termed an allergen, could be virtually anything in a pet's environment. In some instances, a highly allergic pet may have several allergies simultaneously.
Identifying the cause of the allergy requires teamwork between the pet owner and the veterinarian. The same teamwork is needed to control the allergy.
The most common allergy affecting dogs and cats is flea bite allergy. It occurs when a dog or cat is exposed to flea saliva at the time of a flea bite.
Controlling fleas in a pet's environment is the obvious treatment for flea bite allergy. To do this, both the pet and its environment should be treated. Flea collars provide a small measure of relief. However, some pets are allergic to collars.
Flea powders, sprays, and dips can help rid pets of fleas. Always read and follow label directions. Because fleas spend most of their life cycle of a dog or cat, outdoor areas frequented by fleas should be treated with sprays or foggers.
To help control flea infestation within the house, thorough cleaning and vacuuming is needed. A professional exterminator may be necessary to control heavy infestations.
In addition to fleas, dogs and cats may be allergic to other parasites. They can become allergic to tick bites in much the same way as they become allergic to flea bites. You may notice red or raw hot spots on your pet's coat.
Inhalant allergies result from breathing in substances such as pollen from trees, ragweed and other plants, house dust and mold. There seems to be a genetic predisposition to this allergy, but it can occur in any pet at any time of the year.
Contact allergies are caused by a pet's physical contact with an offending substance. Thin-coated or hairless areas are usually affected. Among the most common allergens are soaps, insecticides, wool nylon carpets, paint, wood preservatives, poison ivy, oak or grass. Some pets may be allergic to plastic feeding dishes.
In the case of certain plants and/or geographic locations, inhalant or contact allergies may be seasonal.
Identifying the offending substance is critical to controlling inhalant and contact allergies. If this is accomplished, every effort should be made to eliminate it from the pet's environment. A veterinarian can recommend the appropriate treatment for skin lesions and to help relieve itching.
Although some pets develop allergies to food, this is rare. A food allergy results from an abnormal immune reaction to an ingredient found in pet food. Food allergies usually appear as skin problems or gastrointestinal upsets. However, a variety of diseases have similar signs. Consequently, other causes should be excluded before a pet's diet is blamed or changed.
Most affected pets have been fed the same food over a period of months or years. The allergy develops over time with exposure to the same ingredient, usually proteins. Changing from one pet food to another is not the answer because many of these diets contain similar ingredients.
No food source is completely non-allergenic. The only foods that can be considered hypoallergenic are those a pet has never before eaten. To be hypoallergenic, a diet must contain proteins that have been broken sufficiently so that the immune system does not recognize them.
If a food allergy is suspected, a veterinarian will probably recommend a special "elimination trial diet" in order to be certain that diet is the cause of the allergy and to identify the ingredient to which a pet is allergic.
If a pet is on an "elimination trial diet" to isolate the offending in gredient, the owner and all family members are faced with the challenge of keeping the pet on its special diet. This means no rawhide chews, snacks, table scraps or letting it eat another animal's food.
Once the ingredient to which a pet is allergic is identified, an appropriate diet can be recommended. Again, the challenge is to keep a pet exclusively on the prescribed diet with nothing else offered.
For any allergy, once a tentative diagnosis is made, treatment can be attempted. The goal of the treatment is to control the symptoms by avoiding the cause of the allergy. If avoidance is not possible, medications or a series of injections may be beneficial.
A final thought. Identifying an allergen can be a complex process requiring time and patience. The reward of successful treatment is providing a more comfortable life for the affected pet.
Wishing you the best of health