Hooray for spring! It is finally here and brings with it wonderful things: the birds are singing, the days are longer, the kids are playing t-ball in the park. And the dog is itching. The cat's eyes are red and watery.
Allergies are a very common problem for our pets, and many of them get much worse in the spring. Animals can be allergic to many of the same allergens as people. Outdoor allergens such as grasses and pollens will frequently cause a seasonal problem for pets. Indoor allergens and food allergies are more likely to cause year-round symptoms. They range from the minor annoyance of some mild feet chewing or an annual ear infection to being almost debilitating with chronic, painful skin infections and non-stop itching. They can be costly and time consuming to treat, the allergic pet will never be completely "cured," and they get worse with age. That's the bad news.
The good news is there are many effective treatment options available. From topical treatments such as ear cleaners, shampoos, and sprays to more aggressive treatments like allergen injections and medications to suppress the overactive immune system. It is beneficial to begin treatments when symptoms are relatively mild instead of waiting until the pet is miserable or the skin is infected. It is important to be honest when talking with your veterinarian about treatment options. If you are physically unable to bathe your dog frequently or administer pills to your cat, please let the doctor know this so an alternative treatment plan can be decided on.
In some cases, your veterinarian will recommend a food trial to determine if a food allergy could be contributing to your pet's symptoms. The idea behind a food trial is that you are feeding your pet a diet containing ingredients his body has never seen before, making it unlikely that his immune system will be hypersensitized to them. I cannot stress this enough: a therapeutic diet trial must be a diet that your veterinarian approves, and strictly adhered to for a minimum of 8-10 weeks. This means no table scraps, treats, or sneaking out of the other dog's food dish. Be cautious with over-the-counter diets that make claims of being "hypoallergenic" or "limited ingredient" as there is frequently cross-contamination of ingredients leading to failed diet trials.
Symptoms to watch for that might indicate an allergic pet:
- itchy, smelly, or painful ears
- red, watery eyes
- chewing or licking at feet
- scooting their rear end
- skin rash
- hair loss
- generalized itching
If you are seeing these symptoms in your pet, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. We can decide on a plan to bring relief so that everyone can enjoy this beautiful season together.