General Medicine: Dog Care

Allergic Diseases

Cats and dogs can develop allergic reactions at any point in their life, to a large variety of stimuli, including ones they have been exposed to their entire lives. Some pets have congenital conditions that make them more prone to allergic diseases. 
Allergic diseases are broken down by the source of the allergy and the symptoms pets experience. Many pets fall into multiple categories and can develop secondary problems. Careful, stepwise diagnostics are necessary to determine if your pet is suffering from an allergic disease, which type, and which allergen(s) are at play. Ultimately, these diseases are lifelong conditions, requiring lifelong management. Our goal is to determine which treatment options are most effective – and realistic – for your pet, and create a plan that works for his or her specific situation. 

Environmental Allergies / Atopy 

Some cats and dogs are missing key proteins in the skin, that help the skin work as a barrier against particles in the environment. These pets are much more prone to allergic disease and may respond to one or multiple potential allergens. 

  • Signs of Disease – Affected cats and dogs may be severely itchy over part or all of their body and often develop secondary infections. Cats may scratch at their head and neck and lick over the rest of their bodies, often until bald or raw patches appear. Dogs may scratch, rub, and chew at themselves. Some pets lose weight as they are too uncomfortable to pause scratching long enough to eat, while others have relatively mild signs. Crusty or greasy skin may develop due to infection, and some pets have thickened or more heavily pigmented patches of skin. 
  • Diagnosis – Environmental allergies can be diagnosed by a veterinary dermatologist using specific skin tests, much like people with allergies undergo. 
  • Treatment – There are many different treatment options, including oral, injectable, and topical medications and shampoos. For some pets, hyposensitization (“allergy vaccines”) may be beneficial. All pets with environmental allergies should remain on a year round parasite preventative that is effective against fleas. Other treatments may be needed year round or seasonally, based on your pet’s specific condition. Most pets with environmental allergies require lifelong treatment, so finding the right combination for you and your pet is important! 
  • Prognosis – Environmental allergies cannot be cured, only managed. Most pets will experience periodic break through symptoms that require additional treatment. That said, with consistent treatment and follow up, many pets do well long term. 
  • Prevention – The actual allergies cannot be prevented, but exposure to the most common allergens can be. Year round flea preventatives for both dogs and cats (even indoor-only cats get occasional flea bites) is especially helpful. Also, controlling allergic symptoms with consistent treatment can minimize secondary infections, which makes a big difference to these itchy dogs and cats!