Seasonal environmental allergies in dogs and cats
The Moncton area has been hit by so many snow storms/blizzards this year that we almost forget that spring is upon us. With the onset of spring, many plants and flowers will start to bloom, sending pollen and allergens out into the world. Many humans suffer from spring allergies and our canine and feline counterparts do as well.
What’s the science behind allergies?
Simply put, allergies are a result of an unbalanced immune system. When the immune system is functioning as it should be, the body of your dog is monitored constantly, allowing molecules and safe foreign substances to work properly, while identifying and recognizing hazardous viruses and bacterias.
When a dog or a cat has an allergy, the immune system becomes hypersensitive. It can mistake benign substances, such as pollen, as being harmful to the body. Then, the pet’s body begins to attack the substance, calling in all defenses to battle the substance. Unfortunately, this ultimately hurts the pet’s overall system and ignores the usual bodily tasks that are essential to health.
This is the face of a cat with severe allergies. E-Collars prevent scratching and is required in some cases.
Symptoms of Pollen Allergies
The most common symptom of allergies in pets is itching. Scratching, biting, clawing, and chewing in an attempt to relieve the “itch” are normal symptoms. This constant, persistent action often keeps pets awake at night, makes them frustrated, and causes skin damage (redness). It does not take long scratching to break open the skin, allowing bacteria or yeast to enter the body. For pets that have itchiness in their ears, they may claw with their feet and their nails can cause serious damage to themselves.
Treatment for Pollen Allergies
There are typically three standard treatment options for allergies: avoidance, symptomatic therapy, and immunotherapy. We will mention a fourth alternative option which includes diets, acupuncture and natural options.
Avoidance is simple — unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to limit your pet from going outdoors! Airborne allergens particularly, such as pollen and dust, are extremely difficult to contain and prevent your pet from coming into contact with. However, there are some steps you can take to ensure your dog or cat’s exposure to pollen is as limited as possible.
Good housekeeping techniques go a long way when helping pets with pollen allergies. Start washing your pet’s bedding at least once a week. After a walk or a bathroom break, use a damp cloth to wipe your pet’s coat. Make sure to pat them dry after, leaving humidity/water on the skin may lead to infections. Brushing your dog or cat can help as well, as it distributes natural oils and eliminates mats.
Also, increase your dusting and vacuuming frequencies. Consider purchasing an air purifying system to avoid reintroducing allergens into your home. During the spring, a peak allergy season, try to limit your pet’s time outdoors. The amount of outdoor pollen is highest at dawn and dusk — avoid letting your dog outside during these times.
B) Symptomatic therapy
This form of therapy means to simply treat your dog’s symptoms acutely. This includes anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines, and corticosteroids in an effort to counteract inflammation. Although these drugs do come with some significant side effects, sometimes it’s worth it for your pet’s comfort.
Essential fatty acids supplements, such as an Omegas supplement, are recognized as a safe and helpful treatment for allergy pets. Fatty acids ease inflammation, promote healthy skin and coat, and improve overall skin cell health. Refer to our previous blog on Omegas for more information about them.
Immunotherapy consists of “allergy shots,” a small dose of the substance the dog is allergic to in a saline solution. The standard frequency of dosage is once or twice per week for months (it may vary based on the dermatologist and his/her protocol). The clients will be shown how to administer these injections to their pets at home. The goal of these injections is to accustom your dog’s body to the substance until the dog no longer reacts to it in the environment.
Although immunotherapy often sees good results (approximately 70% of the cases respond), it may be an expensive procedure, both in terms of cost and time. It may lead to a control of the allergies without the need for drugs like prednisone. For more information, talk to your veterinarian. I often refer my cases to Dr Yu or Dr Pye ( board certified dermatologists) for allergy testing. You can visit Yu of Guelph Dermatology website: http://yuofguelphvetderm.com for more information. These board certified dermatologists also visit the Moncton area clinics and the AtlanticVeterinaryCollege a few times a year in order to offer skin testing.
D) Alternative Options
Many holistic practitioners recommend switching any “itchy” pet to a good quality, balanced homemade diet (our blog on this subject) or raw diets (our blog about raw food for pets). Decreasing your dog’s exposure to chemicals and preservatives gives the body a chance to use the rich nutrients found in real, unprocessed foods.
Some pets suffering from allergies have found relief in acupuncture or homeopathic remedies. Natural options like Chinese and western herbal formulas, mushrooms (our blog about immunity and mushrooms), pre and probiotics and homemade diets often tend to end up being more costly then the conventional drugs like Vanectly P, commercial dry diets and depomedrol injections. But, in some cases, they may help rebalance your pet’s immune system instead of just calming it down or suppressing it. Sometimes, a combination of natural options and conventional therapies will be needed or suggested. Each pet is unique and each therapy needs to be design accordingly. Talk to your holistic veterinarian or integrative veterinarian about what would be best for your pet.
As any human suffering from allergies knows, it is important to be patient and persistent when dealing with it. There are many treatment options, both conventional and alternative, and while your patience may be tested when trying to find an option that works, one of these options may be the resolution to your pet’s allergy!
Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS)