What are Allergies and Why Does My Pet Have Them?
Allergies to the environment (grasses, trees, weeds, mites, molds, etc.), fleas, or food can make your pet miserable and prone to recurring secondary infections. The majority of pet allergies are environmental, while a smaller percentage are due to food. Insects, such as fleas and mosquitoes, can also cause allergic reactions. Dr. Nichols will determine the underlying source of your pet's issues through meticulous study of your pet's history, consultation with you, and examination of your pet. He will then guide you as to how to identify the offending allergen(s) and make a plan of action so your pet can begin a happier and healthier life.
Infections can be an endless cycle due to allergies. Infections of the skin and ears are a result of an overgrowth of bacteria and/or yeast. They need to be caught early and treated properly. Your pet may also cause infections as they lick, chew, scratch, and chew in an effort to relieve their discomfort. Infections can only be accurately diagnosed through skin cytology and/or bacterial culture.
Pets with environmental allergies are afflicted with Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy), which is a hypersensitivity disorder in which the immune system overreacts to normally harmless substances. This lifelong disease is primarily determined by genetics and generally worsens as the pet ages. Unlike the usual respiratory symptoms in humans, environmental allergies in pets most often manifest on the skin and in the ears. The most common symptoms of allergic hypersensitivities are extreme itchiness and skin inflammation. Other reactions such as alopecia (hair loss), lichenification (skin thickening), erythema (redness), seborrhea (flaking), papules, pustules, crusts, chronic ear disease, and foul odor may develop. Treatment for pets with mild or seasonal allergies can often be managed with treatments such as topical therapies, antihistamines, fatty acids, steroids, and/or allergy medications. For pets whose allergic symptoms can not be controlled with symptomatic therapies and whose symptoms last longer than 2-3 months per year, allergy testing and desensitization via immunotherapy is necessary.
An intradermal skin test is the gold standard for accurately identifying environmental allergies and is not performed by general practitioners. Via his three years of residency and internship in allergy and dermatology and over twenty years of experience performing and evaluating intradermal skin tests, Dr. Nichols has the training and expertise to perform and interpret your pet's intradermal skin test. After identification of your pet's specific environmental allergens via the intradermal skin test, Dr. Nichols creates a customized immunotherapy protocol to retrain your pet's immune system to not overreact to their allergen triggers. For more information about testing, see this website's "Allergy Testing" page.
A food allergy (Cutaneous Adverse Food Reaction) is much more rare than an environmental allergy. The cause of allergies to food are individual allergens within the food, usually the protein or carbohydrate source. Reactions to food are most often characterized by intense itching, lesions, ear issues, and/or gastrointestinal disorders. Unlike animals with environmental allergies, pets with food allergies tend to not experience significant relief from allergy medications. Blood tests for food allergies do not provide accurate results as they merely detect antibodies against certain proteins which may mean nothing more than your pet has eaten that type of protein in the past. A supervised and 100% exclusive diet trial with a hypoallergenic novel protein or hydrolyzed protein food over 10-12 weeks is the only reliable means to assess the possibility of a food allergy. Hypoallergenic novel protein sources may be duck, rabbit, or kangaroo with an unusual carbohydrate source such as potato or oat. Hydrolyzed diets use a conventional protein source broken down into molecules too small to excite the immune system. Over-the-counter single protein foods are not a good choice as although they cost less than prescription diets, immunological tests have shown them to be unreliable due to inclusion of inappropriate ingredients and/or lack of purity/cross-contamination. Home-cooked meals are a viable option for the short duration of a diet trial, yet do not provide complete, balanced nutrition for the long run unless carefully created with the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist. The prognosis for a pet with a food allergy is good if the allergen is accurately identified and carefully eliminated, which Dr. Nichols can help you to accomplish.
No matter what your pet is allergic to, the recurring symptoms your pet suffers can greatly effect their personality, well-being, and enjoyment of life. The variety of reactions, such as feeling ill, pain, constant itchiness, and infections are miserable for your pet. The quicker these symptoms are treated properly and determination if allergies are the underlying cause, the better for your pet and your pocketbook.
Jennifer with one of our Allergy Specific Immunotherapy patients.