Skin allergies in pets can cause a variety of symptoms, from the occasional scratching to recurring ear infections to hair loss and painful skin lesions. Skin allergies can be simplified into three general categories: flea, food, and atopy/environmental.
Flea allergies are not as much of an issue in the valley as they can be in other parts of the country. A common misconception is that there are no fleas in our area, so flea allergies do not exist. However, it is important to realize that a single flea bite can send an animal into a hyper allergic state. Inflammation, hair loss and itchiness are usually along the rear portion of the back and tail head, the inside of the thighs and the flanks. The simple way to rule out a flea allergy is to treat the pet with a monthly topical product that kills any fleas and repels future infestations. Most products also treat and prevent ticks, mosquitoes, and lice.
There is a large amount of false information out there concerning food allergies in pets. Many food companies advertise diets that are "hypoallergenic" because they do not contain grain or gluten. The fact is approximately 95 percent of food allergies are due to protein sources, namely chicken, beef and lamb. Food allergies are non-seasonal and signs usually involve the ears, feet, groin and face/neck. Gastrointestinal signs can also be present (vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence). The best method for diagnosing a food allergy is a 3-4 month hypoallergenic food trial where the diet is fed exclusively with no table scraps. Apples, carrots or bison/venison based products can be used for treats. Hypoallergenic diets come in a variety of formulas and need to be prescribed by a veterinarian.
The third and most difficult pet allergy to diagnose and treat is atopy or environmental. These are inhaled or cutaneously absorbed allergens and they are numerous (grass, mold, dust mites and insects to name a few). The distribution of the signs usually involves the paws, flanks and groin. There will often be salivary staining and/or hair loss on the paws from excessive licking. Diagnosis is ideally made by skin testing with a veterinary dermatologist, but the diagnosis is often made by ruling out the other types of allergies and/or gauging response to treatment. There are a number of treatments that can be effective, including immunotherapy (allergy shots based on skin or blood testing results), antihistamines, fatty acid supplementation, and medicated shampoos. Systemic glucocorticoids/steroids can relieve signs, but can have deleterious long-term side effects. Alternative immunosuppressive therapy (i.e. cyclosporine) has also been effective.
The Vail Valley Animal Hospital has the experience and expertise to diagnose and treat these pet allergy conditions and relieve your pet's discomfort along with your frustration.
Dr. Charlie Meynier, DVM, has been a practicing vet for more than 12 years with a degree from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Jim Stortz, DVM, has been a practicing vet since completing his Emergency and Critical Care Medicine internship in 2006. The Vail Valley Animal Hospital offers services at both Eagle Vail and Edwards locations. For more information and to make an appointment, call 970-949-4044 (Eagle-Vail) or 970-926-3496 (Edwards) or visit www.vailvalleyanimalhospital.com.