At this time of year allergic skin disease is one of the most common skin complaints that we see at the Barn.
What is an allergy? An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a certain substance and can include, food, parasites (ie fleas, house dust mites) as well environmental allergens (ie pollens).
Atopy is a hypersensitivity to environmental allergens such as tree pollens or grasses or indoor allergens such as house dust mites. It results in intense pruritis (itchiness) which becomes a source of distress for both pet and owner. The constant scratching and licking then often leads to secondary problems such as pyoderma
Clinical signs include pruritis (itchiness) with hair loss or sometimes just saliva staining around the paws. Depending on secondary factors there may also be evidence of bacterial infection or yeast overgrowth hence the clinical appearance can vary markedly from animal to animal.
Diagnosis is based on seasonal history if outdoor allergens are involved, (though this may become less obvious as the disease progresses), clinical examination of affected areas and pattern of affected areas as it is usually around the head and paws that symptoms are displayed. It is often a diagnosis based on exclusion of other causes of skin disease and this may require general health screening blood tests, skin scraping and biopsy.
For a more definitive answer, allergy testing is available either via intradermal testing or immunoglobulin blood testing for specific allergens. This can help manage allergies more effectively and immunotherapy can be initiated if necessary.
Treatment is aimed at controlling the pruritis and clinical symptoms in an attempt to manage the condition rather than cure it. As mentioned previously, atopy often coexists with or is complicated by other skin diseases. A secondary bacterial pyoderma is common therefore antibiotic therapy may be started. Shampoos are very useful in soothing the skin, improving the skins natural defence barrier and reducing bacterial infections or yeast overgrowths.
Medications may have to be used to make the pet more comfortable in the short term but with more modern treatments available to us, these do not have to be steriod based. Supplementation of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) may be helpful in improving the skin barrier which is important as it is the first defence against infection or inflammation.
If allergy testing has been performed there may be a possibility of immunotherapy which involves a course of subcutaneous injection of small quantities of allergens.
Good protection against fleas and other parasites is very important and is easily achieved through application of topical spot on preparations. Sometimes we will also look at dietary trials as many animals with atopy will also have food intolerances. This may be in the form of prescription diets or homemade diets with a novel source of protein and carbohydrate.
For indoor allergies frequent vacuuming, especially those with filters, washing of pets beds and having wooden flooring rather than carpets will all help to reduce the number of house dust mites and alleviate some of the symptoms. Using small containers for food storage and buying smaller bags reduces the number of storage mites.
For outdoor allergies walking may have to be limited to certain areas to avoid allergens. Bathing after a walk can also often help reduce the pruritis.
If you have an itchy pet and would like more information please contact us at the surgery – for the month of June there is a reduction in the price of allergy testing at the lab so be quick!