While everyone preps/recovers from their big Thanksgiving feast, I’ll talk about one of the most common and therefore most boring topics-allergies. The great news is that within the next 4-6 weeks most of our seasonal allergies should have quieted down. The not-great news is that somehow even after several frosts and a few snows, we are still seeing allergy flares.
I have actually personally had the worst allergies of the year in the past week. For whatever reason, they are putting up a strong last stand this year. I know I talk about this a lot, but the only thing human and pet allergies have in common is itchy runny eyes. Almost everything else shows up differently.
The most common side effect of allergies in pets is itching. Itchy armpits, itchy bellies, and chewing their toes. You may see this happening, or you just may see bald armpits and brown stained toes. Itching can very quickly escalate to broken skin and sores, however. Often dogs will itch when they aren’t entertained by other things, so it often happens when you aren’t home.
The good news is that we have several treatment options for allergies. The first route is antihistamines. Truthfully, these rarely work in pets. However, on the rare occasion that we do they have very few side effects. We will often try these first or use them in addition to other medications.
The next level of treatment has two options. One is an injection. This works very well on the majority of dogs that do not have an underlying infection. The great thing about it is that it is extremely safe. We can use it on puppies as young as one month old! This lasts for about 4 weeks and there is no need to give anything else in many cases.
The next option is a pill that helps treat the itching. This pill works on essentially every dog but has a couple more systemic effects. That means that it has a higher degree of immunosuppression. Therefore there are some cases (young dogs, dogs with a secondary illness) where we do not reach for it first. The nice thing is that some dogs only need treatment for a few weeks to get through a season. So this is basically guaranteed to work.
If we get into January or so and your pet is still itching, they likely either have food allergies or an auto-immune issue (allergic to themselves.) We typically start with an allergy test. This gives us a profile of all the things like pollens, grasses, and trees that they are allergic to. We can then give immunotherapy shots to help desensitize the pet to their allergens. This will help them be less itchy over time as their body builds up immunity. They can be done as shots, or if those make you uncomfortable you can also get them in drops that go under their tongues.
Some dogs (and cats) have an allergy to themselves. This is an auto-immune issue, like Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Their bodies over-react to normal proteins which makes them feel itchy and essentially “attacks” their own bodies. We treat these with long-term immunosuppressants. These medications help the pet’s body react less intensely to themselves.
Food trials are fairly in-depth and require feeding nothing except the special prescription diet. These foods are fairly expensive, but for good reason. The dog food factories that make them need to stop the production of all foods and clean/sterilize all the equipment. This is done in between each batch of food. So it slows down production by a lot. The good news is that this can guarantee the foods are hypoallergenic.
So while this may have helped lull you into a turkey sleep, know that allergies are extremely common. If your pet’s allergies aren’t quieting down soon, stop in to talk to your vet about options. The sooner we see itching to help your pet be more comfortable, the better their life will be.