Allergy Season Is No Joke
It’s allergy season once again – not just for us but also for our furry friends! Inhalant allergies, or atopy, can affect dogs and cats just as they do people, causing itching, irritated/watery eyes, sneezing, and coughing. Allergies can also cause other medical conditions such as otitis externa, or ear infections. To scratch their itches, most pets chew or lick at the site which can lead to self-inflicted trauma & excoriation (loss of the outer layer of skin), leading to secondary infections.
It’s important to get seasonal allergies under control to prevent other health problems and for the comfort and quality of your pet’s life. Pets, like their owners, can have allergies to just about anything, which can come about any given day of their lifetime. There are blood tests available to determine exactly what your pet is allergic to and these test everything from types of food, to environmental allergens such as grasses and pollens. A special serum can then be formulated specifically for your pet and then injected during what is called injection hypo-sensitization therapy (which approximately 75% of patients respond to, as in people).
There are several main routes of treating allergies in pets. The first is antihistamines, which tend to work in less than a third of pets to control allergic symptoms. Just as in people, some antihistamines work better for some pets than others, so it can be a matter of trial and error to get it right. Also, as in people, the main side effect of antihistamines can be lethargy or sleepiness.
The second means of preventing allergic symptoms in pets is indefinite, daily administration of omega-3 fatty acids, or fish oil. It can take a few weeks to reach therapeutic levels in the bloodstream, but omega-3’s can prevent allergic symptoms in about two-thirds of pets. The effects of antihistamines and omega-3 fatty acids do seem to be cumulative, that is to say, that combining these two therapeutic modalities can result in upwards of 90% response rates. Given the many other benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for pets, I highly recommend all pets that are able to receive omega-3’s do so. They also help with stiff & sore joints from osteoarthritis, help prevent dermatopathies (pathologic conditions of the skin), minimize the risk for certain types of cancer, increase the palatability of food and give pets a nice, glossy hair coat in addition to helping with vision, heart, kidney and central nervous system functions.
The third mode of treating allergies is with immunosuppressive doses of steroids, such as Prednisone. While having a greater than 90% response rate, these drugs do have many side effects, including increased thirst, urination, appetite and panting and can lead to other medical problems (such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease). Because of these potential side effects, many veterinarians resort to using them as a last-ditch effort if other forms of therapy fail to produce satisfactory results. The doctors at Greenbriar Veterinary Hospital would be happy to examine your pet and go over the different treatment plans to help him or her have an enjoyable, comfortable allergy season this year.
A relatively new addition to the anti-itching regimen available to veterinarians and their patients is Apoquel, (oclacitinib). This drug inhibits neuronal itch (the itch sensation at a nerve level) and generalized pruritus (itchiness) and does so very well. Its continued use does require blood work monitoring and it is a relatively expensive medication.
Shampoos of various formulations are also available as another option for topically helping to manage symptoms in some allergic patients. A final topical approach to minimizing the severity of allergies and their associated clinical signs is simply to wipe the paws down with a clean, moistened washcloth or a baby wipe after outdoor excursions to help mechanically remove the allergen load on your pet’s paws so he/she has less to react to throughout the day while indoors.
Hooman A. Pooya, DVM
Chief of Surgery
Greenbriar Veterinary Hospital