Allergy Awareness

Hi, there! For those of you that don’t know me already, my name is Dr. Molly Kovacs and I am the newest associate veterinarian and Shaffer Animal Hospital. I am a graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine (go Gators!), but prior to that I was a graduate of the University of Central Florida (GO KNIGHTS!) I have started this blog to create a fun and interesting way of keeping the Shaffer family informed on topics in veterinary medicine. I am hoping that you all enjoy reading my thoughts, I certainly enjoy writing them!

May was allergy awareness month, but in Florida every month calls for allergy awareness! So the question is, what are the different allergens that cause our pets to itch incessantly? The first thing to come to the minds of most people would be the pollens and other environmental allergens in the air that cause us to sneeze and itch as well. However, there are several other stimuli that can cause our pets to itch just as much as those pesky environmental factors.

The three most common types of allergies in dogs and cats are flea allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies (contact allergies often also fall under this category). Allergies can be tricky for us to put a finger on sometimes, so we typically try to methodically rule out each category one at a time.

Let’s start with flea allergies. This can be a frustrating one to treat and get under control, but can be fairly easily maintained after the initial stimulus. Here in Florida, fleas are inevitably present everywhere. For most pets, the occasional flea may be simply an annoyance, and once the flea is gone, the annoyance is gone. For a pet that is allergic to fleas, just one bite can cause an outbreak of intense inflammation and overall discomfort.

Treatment for flea allergies starts with prevention. Using flea prevention as instructed on the label (usually monthly) is essential to keeping an overall flea-free environment. This also means that every animal in the household should be on regular flea prevention as well. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a prevention switch to a newer, potentially more effective product if fleas are still a persistent problem. In addition to flea prevention, treating the immediate itch and inflammation is also important. Treating your surrounding environment during a flare up of flea allergies is also crucial to preventing that dreaded flea bite. The life cycle of the flea is approximately 3 months long with several life stages that occur in this time frame. Our dogs and cats are essentially “little salt shakers”, scattering flea eggs as they wander about our houses. Treating the environment for a full 3 months is recommended. Be persistent and the results will be positive!

Food allergies are up next. A new allergy to food can develop at any time over the course of your pet’s life, although middle age tends to be the most common. Thats right, even if your pet has been on the same food its entire life, they can develop an allergy to it! The component of the food that is most commonly related to an allergy is the protein, but grains can also be the culprit as well. Recurrent ear infections are common in pets with food allergies, as well as issues and infections of the anal glands. Some will even have issues with intermittent diarrhea or soft stool. A food trial is usually indicated to determine if itching is related to food allergy. Food trials are very strict, and your veterinarian will almost always recommend using a prescription diet. The trial should last for 6 to 8 weeks before you can say a food allergy is present or not.

Last, but not least, we have environmental allergies. When all other allergens that could potentially cause itch have been excluded, we usually default to environmental allergies. Testing for environmental allergies is similar in dogs and cats to the procedure performed for humans. A patch of hair is shaved and a grid is formed, the allergens are inoculated into the layer of the skin called the dermis and the reaction is recorded. A vaccine can be made based on your pet’s specific allergens in an attempt to make the body less reactive to those agents. This process is usually done by a Veterinary Dermatologist. Additional anti-itch treatments for environmental allergies are available, and sometimes several of these options are used in tandem to control allergic itch. 

It is possible for several types of allergies to exist in the same animal. If you have concerns about your pet’s itch, then we can help! It can sometimes be a long and frustrating process to identify and treat allergies, but we are discovering new information and tools to use to treat them. As always, you know where to contact us if you have any questions! Thanks for reading!

Dr. Molly Kovacs

Shaffer Animal Hospital