Newspaper Article May 20, 2015 Allergies
With our long, cold winter and late spring, everything decided to bloom at once and while all the greenery and flowers are beautiful to see, they also have created a pollen tsunami. If you suffer from seasonal allergies like I do, you know all about the sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose that go along with it. Dogs and cats also can be affected by pollen, however, their signs are quite different. Our pets’ allergy organ is their skin and their response to allergens like pollen is to become itchy, resulting in biting, scratching and licking themselves, often to the point of causing damage.
Called atopy, these inhalant allergies can make our furry friends miserable. The most common areas affected are the face (especially cats), feet and under the tail. The skin becomes very red and the self-inflicted trauma can cause secondary skin infections. Some animals will develop “hot spots” which are raw open sores caused by the licking and biting. Their feet can become swollen and painful enough to cause limping.
The good thing is that there are a number of ways we can help our pets be more comfortable through the allergy season. While antihistamines are the mainstay of treatment for people, they unfortunately do not work as well in dogs and cats. They do help in about 25% of cases and can be tried with mild allergies. Prednisone has long been the best way to manage allergies. It works by simmering down the over-active immune system which causes the allergy. In general, it is very effective and inexpensive. The pet is started on a high dose which is then tapered back to the lowest dose that keeps them comfortable, ideally every other day. Unfortunately, prednisone can have some side effects, the primary one being excessive drinking and urinating. While some owners have reservations about the use of steroids, it is actually quite safe once on the lower dose and the side effects diminish.
We also use a medication called Atopica, which like prednisone, calms down the immune system. It has very few side effects, and although it can cause vomiting, storing the medication in the freezer lessens this. It’s biggest disadvantage is that it can be expensive for larger pets.
A promising new medication is Apoquel, which specifically targets the itch receptors in the skin, giving it very few side effects. While more expensive than prednisone, it is quite reasonable and appears to be very effective. It’s popularity has caused it to be in short supply, but the manufacturer is making every effort to increase production to meet the demand.
Pets can also be tested to see what they are allergic to and then an allergy desensitization serum can be designed specifically for them. It can take a long time (twelve to eighteen months) to see improvement, but for pets which respond, it allows them to be on minimal amounts of medication.
Other therapies which can help in addition to these medications are fatty acid supplements, medicated baths and simply wiping the pet down after they come inside to remove any pollen sticking to the coat.
As you can see, there are many options, so if your pet has been itchy and scratchy lately, please bring him in for an exam so we can tailor a treatment plan best for you and your pet.