How To Identify Dog Allergy Symptoms

Summer! Such a lovely time of the year, but not for those who suffer from allergies! But what is an allergy exactly?

Allergy, technically known as hypersensitivity, occurs when the immune system fails to recognise harmless substances, such as pollens and launches an attack to defend the body against them. These reactions can range from an immediate and acute response within minutes (hives), to delayed reactions observed within hours or days. Anaphylactic shock is the most critical of all. It is a real emergency and can be life-threatening. Fortunately, its incidence is low in our companion animals.

The most usual sign observed in pets suffering from allergies is itchiness, technically known as pruritus.  Other symptoms include skin inflammation and redness, ear disease and gastrointestinal problems amongst others. Pruritus can range from mild to severe, depending on the individual affected. These patients are especially susceptible to secondary skin infections, most commonly caused by bacteria, yeast and in some cases both, which do intensify the pruritus and can make their symptoms even worse.

Environmental allergens are everywhere, and they vary in nature and concentration throughout the year.  Some pets are sensitised to allergens that are typically found in higher concentrations during the winter, such as moulds or house dust mites, and they are ok during the summer. Some others tend to react to allergens typically present during the spring and summertime such as pollen, and are ok in the winter. Sadly, a large percentage of pets are sensitised to all of them and suffer from clinical signs all year round.  Because of the latter, treatment to address the clinical signs can vary depending on if their presentation is seasonal or occurs continuously throughout the year.

However, not all itchy pets have allergies, and it is essential to rule out other underlying conditions that can present in a similar way. The latter include fleas and other parasites, fungal disease, skin infections, food intolerance, etc. Once that your vet has performed various tests to rule out all of the latter, a presumptive diagnosis of underlying “allergies”, technically known as Atopic Dermatitis (AD) can be reached.  Further testing in the form of blood tests or skin prick tests, can help to determine what are the allergens responsible for your pets’ clinical signs. This can be useful in deciding what type of treatment will be the most appropriate for your pet. The treatment chosen depends on the severity of the clinical symptoms, duration, age, lifestyle, home environment, etc.

A multimodal treatment approach has been shown to be the most successful in treating AD and can include various therapies. These include anti-inflammatory drugs, immunotherapy, monoclonal antibody therapy, shampoo therapy, fatty acid supplementation and adequate antiparasitic control amongst others. Some cases are complex and will require referral to a veterinary dermatologist, to address other possible underlying issues contributing to the clinical signs, and establish the best treatment course for the affected individual.

As you could see, allergy management can be complicated and will involve different approaches to treat this condition. Unfortunately, allergies cannot be cured but can be managed. Learning how to manage this condition long term can make a big difference to your pet’s quality of life.  If you are concerned that your pet is suffering from allergic skin disease, please talk to your vet as soon as possible to discuss how best you can help your pet.

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