Just like people, animals can suffer allergic reactions to a wide variety of environmental substances, or allergens. Seasonal allergens, such as grass, tree and weed pollens are common culprits. Other allergens causing year-round symptoms include foods, molds, dust mites, insects and other materials found in the home environment.
Skin disease and allergies are some of the most difficult and frustrating problems treated in veterinary medicine today. Veterinarians report that up to 1 in 4 dogs seen in their practice are treated for allergies. Solving these dermatology cases and establishing effective treatment can be challenging.
An appropriate allergy diagnosis consists of a thorough physical examination, which includes a complete dermatological history. Common questions asked of the pet owner include, "Is this problem seasonal? Is the problem worse indoors or outdoors? Has the pet's environment changed recently? What are you feeding your pet?"
The clinical signs of environmental allergies in dogs and cats are pruritic, such as biting, scratching, face rubbing, feet chewing and constant licking. These result in hair loss, chronic ear infections and skin disease. Secondary infections such as pyoderma, staff and malassezia are also common.
In addition, allergic dogs will often chew on their feet until they are irritated and red (the feet are the only place dogs have sweat glands and these become inflamed with allergies). They may rub their faces on the carpet or couch, or scratch their sides and belly. Because the wax-producing glands of the ear overproduce as a response to the allergy, they get ear infections.
The skin lesions seen in an allergic dog are usually the result of him mutilating his skin through chewing and scratching. Sometimes there is hair loss, which can be patchy or inconsistent over the body leaving a mottled appearance. The skin itself may be dry and crusty, reddened, or oily depending on the dog. It is very common to get secondary bacterial infections of the skin due to these self-infested lesions. Such infections may be treated with antibiotics.
ELISA serum testing offers a valuable alternative to skin testing to identify the specific allergens that are causing a pet to suffer. The pet does not have to be sedated or shaved to test, and this test does not require a veterinary dermatologist. Any veterinarian can simply draw the blood and submit the serum to the laboratory for testing.
It is common for a pet to have multiple allergies, including food, inhalant and contact allergens. While allergies can never be cured, they can be managed and treated with Immunotherapy.