Allergy Symptoms and Treatments – FAQ

Symptoms and Treatments for Allergy in the Dog and Cat

Dr. Masuma Barrett

Dr. Masuma Barrett’s: 10 Questions About Dog & Cat Allergies

1) What Are The Most Common Symptoms Seen In Dogs And Cats With Allergies?

Allergy symptoms generally include ear infections, scratching at the muzzle, chin, armpits, ”legpits”, abdomen, chest, back, between the toes, around the anus area and tail base. This results in hair loss and skin infections. Sometimes the eyes are red and weepy. Some have soft stool or diarrhea. Inflammatory bowel disease and severe gingivitis in cats can also be from an allergy response – which is not yet fully understood.

2) What Are The Most Common Causes Of Allergies?

Food, environment, contactants. Factors such as heat, cold, damp, dry can also exacerbate the condition. Allergy stems from anything that triggers an incorrect response from the immune system. From an integrative perspective, there is a distinction between allergies and hypersensitivity. Allergies are able to be detected with blood tests (immunoglobulin levels), while hypersensitivity cannot be detected- but can still affect an individual.

3) When Do Allergies Typically Develop?

Usually early- by 1.5 years of age. They tend to get worse as the animal gets older.

4) What Diagnostic Tools Do you Generally Use?

Skin scrape, culture, bloodwork with thyroid/hormonal evaluation, biopsy in some cases, immunoglobulin levels in other cases.

5) What Are The Most Common Effective Treatments For Dogs And Cats?  Is There A Permanent Cure For Certain Allergies Or Are Allergies Generally A Life-long Battle? 

Allergies are generally an ongoing battle and the ultimate goal is successful management. Management includes hypoallergenic diets including novel protein, low to no grain diets, managing the symptoms of dermatitis, pyoderma and ear infections. The goal is to decrease the allergen load- whether orally (food) or environmentally (contactants, airborne).

Medications such as antihistamines, steroids, antibiotics, and immune-suppressants can be used. But that is only the first step- to get the symptoms under control.  Supplements, diet change and herbs are used in an integrative method for successful treatment of allergies…by supporting the immune system. 

Treatments are usually not a cure, since allergies can wax and wane. Owners can see significant decrease in symptoms to the point of “looking” like a cure but the possiblity of a flare-up always remains.

6) Is There Anything Pet Owners Can Do To Decrease The Chances, Or Prevent The Pet From Developing Allergies?

 How much of it is genetic is unknown. Genetic predisposition aside, we are all born with a naïve immune system.  From the moment we are born, everything triggers the immune system (diet, vaccines, flea/tick prevention, heart-worm medications…everything). 

Once the immune system “has had enough” it will start showing symptoms- ear infections, itching etc.  We have no test to determine who has a strong or weak immune system.  Therefore a holistic approach is to treat their immune system with respect. 

Start early with a good diet, minimize the number and type of vaccines, then follow proper grooming.  We need to protect our pets from diseases and parasites but with an eye on risk factors and not “routine reminder cards”.  Bathing, brushing, ear cleaning, teeth brushing, a diet of high quality proteins with no to low grain diet, no by-products, no additives, no coloring, fruits and vegetables supplemented to the diet if the patient is tolerant, will help to increase anti-oxidants and immune health.

7) How Can Pet Owners Differentiate Allergies From Other Skin Conditions?

This involves a consultative approach with your doctor. Diagnostics such as skin scrapes, cultures, bloodwork and biopsies are all tools to help determine the underlying cause of your pet’s discomfort. These tools can determine external parasite status, rule out endocrine or hormonal disorders and identify the underlying causes. Allergy tests (on the skin or by drawing blood) determine to a certain extent, what allergens the pet is affected by.

8) What Is The Most Frustrating Part Of Diagnosis/Treatment For The Pet Owner? 

Significant effort has to be put in by owners to manage the condition. Allergies are very complex. Skin is the largest organ of the body and the largest immune organ.  And it is reactive to internal and external pathogens- through the skin and the GI tract. Since hypersensitivity and allergies are multi-factorial in their presentation, they are often difficult to determine.  Management of symptoms is the key.

Sometimes symptoms wax and wane and the patient can seem “much better” but can flare up at any time (especially Spring and late Summer). This might seem like “treatment failure” when it is actually the variable course of allergies. The goal is to keep the symptoms from affecting your pet’s quality of life.

9) Is There A “Pearl” About Treating Allergies For Owners? 

Symptoms can be managed and quality of life can be maintained with a thorough work-up, a complete understanding of the overall endocrine/hormonal status and the health of the patient, treating the symptoms but most importantly, supporting the immune system.  

10) What Are The Advantages Of An Integrative Approach Over Only A Conventional Treatment For Allergies?

First there has to be a thorough workup to determine the cause of the patient’s symptoms. Once parasites, metabolic, endocrine and hormonal disorders have been ruled out, allergies can be managed.

Most conventional methods attempt to only relieve or suppress the symptoms with medications with antihistamines, steroids, antibiotics, and immune-suppressants. Allergy shots take it to the next level of attempting to “cure”.  Allergy shots, or hyposensitization, can take up to 5 years to work and reportedly 15% of the patients never respond.

Herbs, diet, supplements and acupuncture can also be used to desensitize and support the body for the same goal.

Ideal allergy treatment involves both aspects: management of symptoms and a method to desensitize the body to its allergen; finally if the immune system is supported to “deal” with the allergen, that is the best outcome.  Ideally a combination of both conventional and non-conventional- making it an integrative approach, can make the treatment more effective and long lasting.

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