Animal Medical Care Pet Allergies and Skin Itching

Allergy is an exaggerated immune response to some type of protein. Allergies are very common in dogs and cats and tend to have a heritable tendency. In other words, if the parents have allergies there is a greater chance the offspring will have allergies as well.

There are a number of types of skin allergies: flea allergy, inhalant allergy, food allergy, and contact allergy. Historically, flea allergy (FAD) has been the most common type of allergy in our region. With the advent of very good flea control products (Frontline, Revolution, Comfortis, Advantage) this problem is much less common than previously. Contact allergy occurs when an individual has a reaction to something to which it touches. This is a rather rare diagnosis.

Allergic inhalant dermatitis (AID) is quite common. It is similar to "hay fever" in people except it causes redness and itching of the skin. AID is a reaction to an inhaled microscopic protein such as pollen, house dust, mold spores, or dander. Pets with AID often chew at their feet or wipe at their face because of the higher concentration of reactive mast cells in these tissues. AID may be seasonal depending on the pet's specific allergen. A diagnosis is based upon history, physical findings, ruling out other causes of itching and allergy testing (either skin or blood test). Most dogs with AID start itching by the time they are 2-4 years of age.

Food allergy can present with exactly the same signs as AID. It has no respect for age as to when it may start. Food allergy can develop even though a pet may have been on the same diet for several years. The diagnosis is based upon history, physical exam, other rule outs for itching and a hypoallergenic food trial.

Pets with unexplained itching need to be examined to determine the cause. Chronic itching is miserable for the pet. Multiple treatments are available depending upon the cause.

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