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.

Why is my pet itchy?

Itching, also known as pruritus, is one of the most common presenting complaints I get from pet owners. They are frustrated listening to the incessant scratching and licking which may keep both them and their pet awake at night, and concerned that their dog or cat is uncomfortable.

Itching is a non-specific sign, meaning that there can be many different causes. However, most cases of itching can be attributed to two broad categories: infections and/or allergies. Often times, both infection and allergies may be contributing to the problem. A pet with allergies is more susceptible to secondary infections. Both are itchy and create a cycle of itching, licking, and infection.

The first step to relieving itchiness in your pet is to identify the cause. Your veterinarian will usually start by asking some relevant questions about your dog or cat, other pets and people in your household. Questions will include detailed information about the type and duration of signs and past and current medications.

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your pet to determine if there are any signs of infection, such as hairloss, redness, pustules, crusts, etc. Infections can be bacterial, fungal (yeast and ringworm), or parasitic (demodex and sarcoptic mange). Diagnostic tests, such as skin cytology, fungal culture, or skin scrape, may be performed. If infection is present, it must be treated in order to determine if it is the primary cause of itching or if it is secondary to allergies or another cause.

Allergies are extremely common and are likely the cause of most cases of itchy dogs. My next posts will discuss allergies and how to treat them.