Does My Pet Have An Allergy?

Allergies are itchy, but they are also the most common cause of chronic and recurrent skin and ear infections. Every day, I see several patients with itching, allergies, and related medical conditions. If your dog gets skin or ear infections several times a year, it is very likely that your pet has an underlying allergy. Resolution of these problems cannot be fully accomplished until the underlying allergy is addressed.

Allergies are notoriously frustrating. Most owners should be prepared to deal with them to some extent for the rest of their pet’s life. However, this does not mean you have to resign yourself to constant scratching and licking, infections, or frequent and expensive visits to your veterinarian. You may have to work closely with your veterinarian initially, but once the allergy is identified, it is generally easier to manage them.

Allergies can be classified into three broad categories:

  • Fleas – Fleas are itchy for all animals, but pets that are allergic to fleas will be extremely itchy and frequently lose their hair and develop skin infections.
  • Food – Your pet may be allergic to an ingredient in the food they are eating. This does not mean that the food is not a quality food. Your dog may just have an allergy to an ingredient, much like a person would have an allergy to specific foods.
  • Atopic Dermatitis – This includes environmental allergens, such as dust, pollen, grass, etc.

Exposure to an allergen can cause an allergic reaction for up to six weeks. Ideally, the allergen causing your dog’s itching is identified and avoided. However, often times this is not possible. Either identification of the allergen is difficult or avoiding the allergen is impossible. My next posts will discuss the steps to take to determine which allergen is triggering your dog’s flare-ups, how to treat them, and what options are available if a specific allergen cannot be identified or avoided.

Should you spay or neuter your pet?

Yes! There are many medical and behavioral benefits of spaying or neutering your dog or cat. And, it greatly helps reduce the number of unwanted animals in shelters. Spaying and neutering saves lives!

Neuter refers to the surgical sterilization of an animal that renders them in capable of reproducing. The term neuter refers to sterilization of females or males but is commonly used to refer to male castration. Removal of the testicles prevents testosterone and sperm production. Spay is the surgical sterilization of females. The ovaries and uterus are removed thereby preventing estrogen production and pregnancy.

Benefits of Spay and Neuter:

  • Prevents unplanned pregnancies. Birth control is one of the main reasons we spay and neuter our pets. Every year millions of animals are euthanized across the country because there are just too many and not enough homes. Even if you find a home for your dog’s puppies or cat’s kittens, those are homes that could have been filled by homeless animals, and the new owners may allow their pets to have more puppies and kittens keeping the problem growing.
  • Reduces cancer risk. Mammary (breast) cancer is relatively common in intact (unspayed) females. Spaying a dog before their first heat cycle virtually eliminates their risk of mammary cancer later in life. Spaying cats before their first heat cycle reduces their risk by about 90%. Risk increases significantly with each heat cycle an animal experiences. Therefore, it is important to spay early. In addition, spaying and neutering eliminates the risks of testicular, ovarian, and uterine cancers and greatly reduces the risk of prostate and rectal cancers.
  • Prevents life-threatening infections. “Pyometra” is a severe, life-threatening infection of the uterus that occurs commonly among older, unspayed dogs and cats. Spaying eliminates this risk.
  • Reduces spraying, urine marking (leg lifting), mounting, and the tendency to run away in search of a mate. Neutering also decreases urine odor which is especially important in male cats who have exceptionally pungent smelling urine and are prone to spraying when they are not neutered. Decreased roaming in dogs and cats reduces the chances of your pet getting lost or seriously injured (such as being hit by a car) when they leave home in search of a mate.
  • Reduces aggression. The elimination of testosterone reduces hormonally-induced aggression.
  • No “heat” cycle or false pregnancies. Intact females will have vaginal bleeding (spotting) during estrus. This is referred to as being “in heat”. Unspayed female cats will also cry incessantly and persistently try to escape to find a male. Unspayed female dogs may also experience false pregnancies.

When should you spay or neuter your dog or cat?

The best time to sterilize your pet is before six months of age. This has the greatest impact in preventing medical and behavioral problems associated with gender-specific hormones.

Common Spay/Neuter Myths:

  • MYTH: Spaying or neutering will calm a pet down.

TRUTH: Spaying or neutering does not alter personality. If a dog is energetic and hyperactive, it will be so after spay or neuter.

  • MYTH: A spayed or neutered dog will become fat and lazy.

TRUTH: Weight gain is the result of taking in more calories than what is burned off. If your pet gains weight it is because they are overfed.

  • MYTH: It is unnatural to deprive my pet of a sex life.

TRUTH: Animals have sex strictly to satisfy hormone-induced instincts, not for pleasure.

Spayed and neutered dogs and cats live healthier lives with less behavioral and medical problems and don’t contribute to the problem of pet overpopulation.