Have you ever been sitting relaxing, watching a movie with your pet and all of a sudden you start to hear scratching, chewing, licking or head shaking?
It happened to me last week. All of a sudden I noticed Koa was shaking his head and holding his ear at an odd angle and he was licking his paws and chewing on himself. There it was ….the dreaded symphony of allergy symptoms!
Like clockwork we start to get calls right around this time and they are all the same. Help, my pet is itchy and it’s driving them and us crazy!
So what exactly makes our pets itchy? We can generally break down itch into three main categories.
Fleas: While flea bites cause a transient irritation to both pets and people, pets with a true flea allergy are hypersensitive. One bite can be enough to trigger a systemic bout of chewing and scratching. Fleas can be a challenge to manage, requiring treatment of all household pets as well as the environment, but the good news is once the fleas are under control, so is the itching.
Environmental allergy or atopy, is another big category of allergies. The allergens can be inhaled, like pollen or mite dander; or absorbed directly through the skin, as sometimes happens with grass. Atopy is a challenge to manage, and pets may require injections or medication to keep them comfortable during the allergy season.
Food allergy: Food allergies resulting in skin disease are, to the surprise of many owners, much less common than the first two allergies. Food allergies are usually triggered by a hypersensitivity reaction to a protein that the body misidentifies as a threat. The only way to diagnose a food allergy is through a strict elimination diet. Your veterinarian’s guidance is essential in sorting through a pet’s history for clues leading to a diagnosis of a food allergy. Once the specific allergen is identified, the pet can be transitioned to a food that does not contain the trigger.
Koa is my third German Shepherd. Each one has had a variation to some degree of all of the above issues. Dakota our first boy would get FLAD (flea allergy dermatitis) from one or two fleas. If we weren’t super vigilant giving flea medication as a preventative measure we would be in the clinic getting a round of antibiotics to deal with the secondary infection.
Jackson our second dog was very atopic. He definitely reacted to his environment and to food to a degree. He was almost always on a round of prednisone (steroid to control inflammation and itch) and was on a special diet to keep his skin issues under control.
When Koa was a year, I had an interesting discussion with Dr. Pat about allergies. After skin issues with our previous boys, I wanted to know what our chances were of him developing issues . She said often times she notices that when puppies have a lot of early intestinal issues there is a correlation between that and allergy issues later on. Koa never had those symptoms as a puppy. Luckily Koa at two seems to be doing quite well. He did have one outbreak of mild seasonal allergies after a visit to the cottage last year and I see a bout coming on now, but his symptoms seem to be way less than Jackson, and more easily managed.
Now before you get down and out about itchy pets, there is good news!!! A big part of keeping allergens and fleas at bay is prevention. Being proactive can help immensely in stopping or at least keeping symptoms to a minimum.
Food and medications etc have come a long way in helping prevent and treat allergies.
Cytopoint is an injection that can last up to 2 months for allergy relief. Koa responds very well to cytopoint and an added benefit is not having to pill him every day.
Prescription flea medications are more effective than ever in preventing flea infestations which can lead to FLAD. And hypo allergenic diets can help control food allergies better than ever.