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03.03.11

The Dawn of Spring Allergies

As the trees start to pollinate, the spring season starts to dawn and so do those pesky allergies. A time to put the winter cold past us and a look to the brighter days are not so bright for those with allergies. Many pets are affected by spring allergies and it is important to be aware if your pet shows signs so you can lighten its discomfort and help provide brighter days.

According to Dr. Adam Patterson, clinical assistant professor and a board certified dermatologist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), an allergy is an exaggerated response in which the body's immune system overreacts to normally harmless environmental substances known as allergens.

Patterson explains that animals can show signs of allergic reactions during a particular season or year-round dependent on what they are allergic to.

"Any cat and horse breed can be affected by allergies," notes Patterson. "Any dog breed can also be affected, but there are certain breeds that are more susceptible to allergies, including: terriers, retrievers, Dalmatians, Shar Peis, and bulldogs."

When people encounter allergic reactions, they tend to sneeze and wheeze. Whereas, animals tend to itch and scratch their way to a hopeful recovery, but this can actually promote more severe skin problems.

"An itch may be manifested as licking, chewing, biting, rubbing, scratching, head shaking, and/or scooting," explains Patterson. "Common itchy body areas include the face, ears, paws, armpits, groin, rump, and anal region. Horses may present with an itchy skin disease and/or hives. Every pet has its own itch tolerance which means the intensity and reason(s) for your pet's itch may not be the same as another animal. Regardless of the animal, allergic patients are prone to secondary infections that can cause skin discoloration, hair loss, pimples, or scabs."

If your pet does show any of these allergic signs, it is in everyone's best interest to contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can develop a customized treatment plan for your pet so the itch can be alleviated. However, Patterson comments that allergies can be managed, not necessarily cured.

"Treatments are tailored to the individual based on the extent, severity, and seasonality of signs," says Patterson. "The 'absolutes' of therapy include: routine bathing to remove pollen accumulation, infection control (topical and/or systemic), and flea prevention. Other treatments can be prescribed based on what the patient is sensitive to, and the response to the 'absolutes.' It is important to recognize that allergies can be managed, but often are not cured."

Sometimes steroids are used to alleviate an itch. However, Patterson warns that long-term use of steroids can cause detrimental health problems. "For this reason, it is recommended that the underlying trigger of allergic signs be sought and managed with other less harmful treatments for those animals with chronic problems," explains Patterson.

The most common allergens that affect pets are fleas, food, pollen, molds, mites, insects, and dander. As there are a lot of factors to consider when diagnosing what your pets are allergic to, your veterinarian can perform tests and personal evaluations based on many factors to help determine the culprits.

"Elimination diet trials are used to exclude food allergies," notes Patterson. "Skin or blood 'allergy' testing is used to select candidate pollens for immunotherapy (oral allergy drops or allergy injections) in animals with an environmental allergy. It is important to recognize that these tests DO NOT DIAGNOSE an environmental allergy as 'normal' animals can have 'positive' test results. The diagnosis is based on the history, clinical signs, and the process of exclusion."

Allergies are more common in pets than most people believe. Ten percent of the canine population is affected by allergies. It is important to be aware of the allergic signs and notify a veterinarian when the symptoms persist. If you have any questions pertaining to allergies or skin ailments you can call the dermatology department at the CVM Small Animal Clinical Sciences at 979-845-2351 or visit their webpage at /services/dermatology to review frequently asked questions and answers.

 

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