Like us, our pets can suffer from allergies, and mimicking the human world, this condition appears to be on the rise! Pet allergies can manifest in various symptoms with one of the most common presentations being itchy skin. Whilst not usually life-threatening, any owner of an itchy pet can attest to the persistent discomfort and distress this can cause.
Furthermore, allergic skin disease can result in repeated visits to the vet clinic, and you are disappointingly more likely to hear the word ‘manage’ rather than ‘cure’. So, what are the most common allergens in cats and dogs and how can we best manage them? Let’s take a closer look.
There are four primary types of allergic skin disease that cause excessive itchiness in our pets.
They are often categorised based on the specific clinical presentation, and unfortunately, it is not uncommon for patients to suffer from more than one type, making both the diagnosis and treatment challenging. Furthermore, cat and dog skin disease are often complicated by the secondary self-trauma and infection they cause themselves as they desperately try to sooth their itch with their sharp claws and barbed tongues.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)
FAD is one of the most common allergic skin diseases in cats and dogs. Now, it is crucial to note that we are not talking about a flea-ridden animal here. Instead, this occurs when your pet develops an allergic reaction to the proteins in flea saliva such that when they are bitten by just one flea, an intense pruritis or itching results. Whilst I am a strong advocate for flea prevention and control in all cats and dogs, if your pet suffers from FAD this is absolutely critical to effectively manage their disease.
Atopic Dermatitis or Atopy, is increasingly common and thought to affect up to 15% of the canine population and around 12% of our felines. It is a condition whereby the outer layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, is somewhat defective leaving the skin barrier defence system impaired. As a result, when common environmental allergens such as pollens or dust mites contact the skin, they can elicit an allergic, itchy response. This is often amplified as atopic animals are thought to have an exaggerated immune response, which further potentiates the itch! Management of Atopic Dermatitis focuses on improving the skin barrier defences. This is done by bathing itchy pets in specific shampoos and replenishing conditioners as well as with oral supplementation of essential fatty acids such as K9 Natural Skin and Coat Health Oil for dogs. Improving the skin’s natural defence system is the best way to help keep Atopy at bay.
Food Allergy Dermatitis
Food allergies are an immune-mediated hypersensitivity reaction to the proteins in food. This can result in gastrointestinal symptoms for cats and dogs but also commonly presents dermatologically with itchy skin. Animal proteins are a common culprit, however proteins from plants can also elicit an allergic response and often your pet may have multiple dietary allergens. Whilst tedious, strict food elimination trials guided by your veterinarian are both a powerful diagnostic and management tool for pets afflicted with food allergies.
Once specific allergens are identified, avoidance of them is key. With many commercial pet foods this can be challenging as they often contain multiple protein sources. Thankfully however, the single-source protein products from the K9 Natural and Feline Natural Feast range make feeding your food allergy pet easy. Furthermore, their wet formats contain no gelling agents or fillers which can also contribute to skin allergies, making these a good choice for those with food-based allergies and sensitive skin.
As the name suggests, Contact Dermatitis is an allergic reaction resulting from direct contact with a substance. Common offenders include certain plants, grooming products, detergents, or even bedding. This often affects the least haired and thus least protected parts of the body such as the belly or the paws. So, if your dog returns from their daily park visit and incessantly licks their paws, alarm bells for contact dermatitis should be going off in your head. Luckily, once the allergen is identified, avoidance usually prevents recurrence. It can also help to wipe down your dog’s paws and belly after each walk to reduce the allergen load and therefore the allergic and itchy response.
Now you may have noticed that I have been using the word ‘management’ instead ‘treatment’ whilst discussing allergic skin disease. That is because unfortunately it is generally considered a lifelong affliction. Whilst extensive medical treatment for flare ups is available, preventing itchy flare ups is the cornerstone to successfully managing the disease. Having a good relationship with your vet and being patient and persistent is paramount to getting a correct diagnosis and effective management plan to keep your cat or dog happy, and itch free!
Written by Dr. Josie Gollan