If your pet has itchy eyes, ears, paws or belly, allergies might be to blame! Itchy pets can damage their skin with scratching or chewing and develop bacterial or yeast infections. These infections make skin even itchier, setting off a vicious cycle, Itchy pets should see a veterinarian to treat any infection present and to develop a plan for lifelong allergy management.
Allergies in pets are broken down into 3 categories: flea bite, food and environmental.
Flea Bite Allergy is common in both dogs and cats. Sensitivity to flea saliva causes severe itching, often along the neck, lower back, inner thighs and tail. Flea dermatitis has recently been found to be a factor in dog ear infections as well. Treatment for flea allergy is monthly parasite prevention with a high-quality, veterinarian-approved product. Treat ALL pets at home, not just the itchy one! The home environment must also be thoroughly cleaned to eliminate flea eggs and larvae. Fleas are the #1 cause of itching in dogs and are ubiquitous in San Jose all year round.
Food Allergy is an inappropriate immune response toward ingredients in pet food. Common signs of food allergy are itching around the face, ears, paws, and anus. You may also notice vomiting, soft stool, or flatulence. Animal proteins are the most common cause. (“Grain-free” foods can still cause allergies, and are not necessarily healthier for your pet!) The only way to diagnose a food allergy is through a diet trial, which takes 1-2 months. Some pets may feel better after switching to a commercial food without certain trigger ingredients, while others require a prescription diet specifically designed to minimize allergic reactions.
Environmental Allergy (also known as Atopy or Atopic Dermatitis) is very common in dogs and less common in cats. Atopy tends to be seasonal, but can be all year in severe cases. Pets can be allergic to anything humans get hay fever to, including grasses, pollens, molds, dust, and dander. Some unlucky dogs are allergic to the normal yeast that lives on their body.
There are several treatments available at our San Jose veterinary clinic:
- Antihistamines (ex. Benadryl, Zyrtec) can be used safely for long periods of time. They must be given daily for full effect. Unfortunately, not all pets can stay comfortable on antihistamines alone.
- Corticosteroids (ex. prednisone) reduce itch and inflammation, but they have many harmful side effects when used long-term. Steroids are useful for controlling severe inflammation, but we no longer recommend them for long-term itch relief because there are better options to keep pets comfortable.
- Apoquel and Cytopoint are newer medications with fewer side effects and better safety. These medications target specific cell signaling molecules to reduce itch. Apoquel is given daily as tablets, and Cytopoint is given monthly as a long-acting injection. These medications are for dogs only.
- Allergy testing and desensitization is available through dermatology specialists. Once specific allergens are identified by a skin test, injections of the specific substances can be given at home to make the pet less reactive over many months.
- Grooming and hygiene strengthen the skin barrier and remove allergens, bacteria and yeast, which can lessen the amount of medication needed to control itch. We have several medicated shampoos, mousses and wipes available.
Each patient and owner’s situation is different, and therefore each treatment program must be designed separately. Allergies are usually very treatable and manageable, but they are NOT CURABLE. We are happy to discuss diagnostic and treatment options that fit your lifestyle.