Hi everyone! Dr. Boyker here again. Now that we have taken care of all those pesky little fleas (with proper MONTHLY flea control), let’s talk about the other big cause of keeping us up all night long itching itching itching (and licking licking licking)… ALLERGIES!
Here in Southern California, allergies are a year round part of our beloved pet’s lives. There are 2 main types of allergies after fleas: FOOD and ENVIRONMENTAL. Food allergies are what most people think of first, but they are only actually truly present in about 10% of ALL dogs and cats.
Food allergies can lead to clinical signs such as reoccurring ear infections, staining and itchiness around the mouth (in the lip folds usually), staining around the eyes, extra STINKY gas, and increased frequency of bowel movements that are soft but still formed. Your pet should be going about 2x a day; nice solid poops. If that sounds abnormal to you, let’s talk about what you are feeding your pet.
Environmental allergies, or “atopy” to us Veterinarians, are much more common. They are present in about 50% of our allergy patients. I’ve seen dogs and cats allergic to molds, insect dander, trees and plants and even pet dander (basically meaning they are allergic to themselves) or human dander (allergic to us!).
They can present clinically to us for itchy red skin on the belly, sides of the abdomen, and most commonly, biting and chewing at the feet excessively and keeping you up all night long. Commonly, people see the fur turn a brown/reddish color secondary to saliva (known as salivary staining) and yeast and bacterial infections.
Yeast and bacteria, which are normal microbes on the skin, can invade into the tiny little microscopic abrasions our pets create by itching. They reproduce and overpopulate and before you know it, we have a RAGING yeast and/or bacterial infection. Yeast infections are especially stinky, and SUPER itchy, so we get more and more scratching all day long. Bacterial infections can also cause severe problems, and will invade further and further into the skin. We even recommend culturing many of our skin infections nowadays, as we are finding the dog equivalent to MRSA infections (which is an antibiotic RESISTANT infection) due to horrible horrible chronic untreated bacterial infections.
So, now that we know a little more about food vs. environmental allergies, lets talk about how we treat them. There are tests we can perform now that can tell us exactly what we are allergic to, if our allergies are ENVIRONMENTAL. There currently exists NO food allergy test that has ANY sort of reliability. The only way to diagnose a food allergy is to undergo a food trial. We will pick a NOVEL protein (new protein) that your pet has never been exposed to or talk about using a hydrolyzed protein diet, and have our pets on that food only with NOTHING else orally for a solid 6-8 weeks to see if we can see improvement in our ears, poops and secondary itching/infections. Many people try to do a food trial at home, but the STRICT switch and lack of ANYTHING else given orally other than the food is necessary to really perform it correctly. Plus many foods nowadays are using many of the special proteins we once reserved for food allergy patients, so we are having a harder and harder time finding novel proteins.
Environmental allergies can be treated in many different ways. The most effective and even POTENTIALLY CURATIVE treatment is antigen therapy. We perform allergy blood testing, determine what the most irritating allergens are, and develop antigens that we give by injection to our pets. Sometimes we give them once weekly, sometimes we can wean down to monthly or even longer! Other things we do are treatments to help with the clinical signs of allergies- most commonly, ITCHING!! We have medications including Apoquel (an anti itch pill) or Cytopoint (an injection that works on the target in the body associated with allergen based itchiness) that we commonly use to give our pets relief. Secondary yeast and bacterial infections are also incredibly common with our allergy pets due to the compromised skin barrier, unstable environment (inflammation) and itchiness that creates those tiny little micro-abrasions in the skin layer. Omega supplements (fish oil) and frequent bathing with topical treatments are also incredibly important in the care of our pet’s allergies; it absolutely takes TIME and serious COMMITMENT.
And remember, with allergies, we are talking about MANAGING a chronic issue. Antigens are potentially curative but most commonly, we are dealing with symptoms (including itchiness/infections) that will reoccur LIFELONG.
So, if your Southern California fur-baby fits any of the description factors about I’ve talked about, bring them on in for a customized plan to help treat allergies. It will require patience and commitment on your part, but I KNOW your fur-babies are worth it!