Pets’ skin irritation often an allergy

One of the more common issues we see in central Indiana is that of allergic issues. Yes, your pet gets allergies just as we do. The major difference is where the response in the body to the allergens is. In humans we commonly see watery eyes, sneezing and general respiratory distress as the signs are mostly confined to our nasal passages and lungs (think asthma).

In dogs and cats, the main focus of the body’s response is in the skin. Animals show mostly excessive itching and scratching. Oftentimes we get hair loss and secondary issues of bacterial and/or yeast/fungal skin infections due to the skin being inflamed. The main areas of concern are the feet, the face, the abdomen and the top of the tail.

Some dogs and cats do have the respiratory problems that humans face, however, the majority have these skin-based issues. There may or may not be fleas noted on these animals at the same time. Finding fleas doesn’t mean that they are the sole cause of the problem, but they certainly do not help the situation. These allergic animals usually have a seasonal nature to the problem, as excessive itching repeatedly shows up around the same time of year, every year.

Food-based allergies are also a possibility, but a small percentage of our pets have a true food-allergy issue. Food allergies have no seasonal occurrence and do not respond to anything but a removal from the diet of the offending allergen.

If your pet is experiencing excessive itching and/or hair loss it is always best to see a veterinarian. As clinicians, we have owners stating that their animal has “mange” or some other skin issue when these allergic animals come to our facilities. The vast majority of these cases, however, are just seasonal allergies.

Testing is available to find out specifically what the pet is allergic to, although this procedure is too costly for some owners to pursue. Allergy shots to make the animal less reactive, just as in human allergy patients, are also available after testing has confirmed the allergens.

Other conditions also may contribute to allergic issue as well. These include hypothyroidism, diabetes, and a host of other conditions. Some animals do have issues with poison ivy, poison oak and sumac, just as humans. The signs in a pet would be very similar to us having the problem.

There are various treatment options available from your veterinarian. They range from topical therapies, such as shampoos and conditioners, to injections, to pills and perhaps even combinations of these products and medications. If fleas are also present, then treatment options will be offered for your pet as well.

As a good rule of thumb, see your veterinarian for products for your pet versus trying to pick something over-the-counter or at a pet retailer or drug store. Clinicians and our staffs are trained to help every pet owner to provide for their pet as best as possible, with a variety of approved and effective medications.

I look forward this opportunity and hope for health and happiness for pets and their owners.

About this series

Vet Voices is written by local veterinarians and covers topics related to pet care and health.

Dr. Bob Barnes is the owner and veterinarian at Mt. Comfort Animal Hospital in Greenfield.