The largest organ in the body, the skin is responsible for protecting every other organ. If damaged or diseased, it can be a big deal. This applies to your pet too. A skin allergy, or atopic dermatitis, is the number one reason pets visit the vet.
Causes & Transmission. The most common causes of allergies in cats and dogs are fleas, food, and airborne pollen allergies (also known as atopy), such as those related to trees, grasses, weeds, and fungi. Most parts of the United States experience acute allergies only in the spring and fall, but because of Florida’s year-round beautiful weather, we experience allergen exposure through all 12 months.
The age of your pet when skin problems start, their breed, and the distribution pattern on the body can provide a hint that allergies are the culprit.
Clinical Signs. Common signs of allergies in your pet include:
- Licking, biting or scratching armpits and belly, face rubbing, feet chewing
- Copper-colored paws or other haired areas
- Hair loss (alopecia)
- Ear pain, inflammation, and/or discharge
- Crusty/scaly/greasy/thickened/smelly skin
Treatment & Prevention. Pets get exposed to allergens just by walking outdoors, where pollen attaches to the feet and underbelly. Use unscented baby wipes each time your pet goes outside to help remove the pollen. Be extremely diligent about monitoring your A/C filters and be sure to use special HEPA filters and change them frequently.
The licking, biting, and scratching can break down the protective barrier of the skin, setting up for secondary infection from either bacterial or yeast. These secondary infections make your pet even itchier, so they too must be treated, whether systemically (antibiotics for 3-6 weeks or anti-yeast for 4-8 weeks) and/or topically. Chronic inflammation of allergies can also lead to recurrent ear infections.
It’s important to remember that unless you live in a bubble or can move to new environments annually, you will always be dealing with this problem. Allergies can’t be cured, but they can usually be controlled. Thus, the owner must be diligent in their commitment to treatment.
There are several treatment options, including some that are the same used to treat humans. Though the initial evaluation can be expensive, the long-term weekly to biweekly injections are not. The treatment can also be administered as a sublingual liquid but must be given a couple times per day. Another problem is slow onset of action, so you have to use other treatments while starting and must be used very long term.