Seasonal allergies(Atopy) in our pet population here in northern Michigan is a common problem. Although we most commonly see our canine patients for dermatologic allergy symptoms, we do occasionally see our feline patients with respiratory or dermatologic allergy. The most common signs of seasonal allergy our owners see at home in their dogs are itchy, red skin affecting the ears, feet, chest, armpits, and groin area. Secondary ear and skin infections are common and if severe enough, some dogs develop the classic “hot spot” usually affecting the side of face or neck region. The common environmental culprits are pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds, as well as molds and dust mites in the winter months.
Allergies are basically the immune systems “overreaction” to offending agent when present. For this reason, it is most common for allergy symptoms to develop in our pets only after their immune systems have been previously exposed to the allergen for a season or two. Most pets develop signs between 2-5 years of age. In the majority of patients, the problem begins as a seasonal issue but eventually progresses to a year round chronic problem.
The gold standard of treatment for allergy symptoms is the use of antihistamines along with omega fatty acid and antioxidant supplements. This tends to control most patients most of the year, but when allergy symptoms become more severe and break through these treatments, short term steroid use is very effective. Some patients who cannot be regularly controlled on antihistamines undergo allergy screening and individualized allergy serum is designed for them specifically.
Feline patients present with “asthma-like” signs or itchy bumps on the face or neck. They are fortunate in that their allergies rarely progress into a year round problem and can usually be safely and effectively controlled with short term steroid use.
Food allergies do also commonly occur in our pet population. While common, they are not nearly as often the “driving factor” in our pets allergy symptoms. This is a good thing in that eliminating the offending agent in the food can prove very difficult and costly. Food allergy will be discussed in detail in a later post.