Allergies are awful and can lead to atopic dermatitis. Atopic derma-what? It's the inherited condition where your pet has an allergic reaction (inflammation or getting itchy) to some kind of allergen. According to the US National Library of Medicine, about 12.5% of felines suffer from atopic allergies, and 10% of canines suffer from atopic allergies.
Environmental allergies are much more common than food allergies in pets — 85% of the time, it's an environmental allergy such as grasses, weeds, dust mites, molds, and fungi.
When it comes to environmental allergies, dogs and cats can have year-round allergies to any one or all five of the main allergens, particularly dust mites in the house.
Screening for Allergies
There is a blood screening test that we can do to screen for environmental allergies, and helps to determine what allergy your pet most likely has. The blood screening test is about 75% accurate. Even if the blood screening test gives the wrong results, it gives you a good idea of which direction to go. If the test comes back negative and you're still very suspicious there's an allergy, more aggressive diagnostics like food trials may be needed. But if you do the blood test and it's positive for environmental allergies, there is a pretty good chance that your dog or cat does have environmental allergies.
Treating Your Pet's Allergies
There are lots of different treatment options available.
- Steroids work well to stop allergies and itching; however, steroids are not good as a long-term solution. Increased drinking and urination is a notorious side effect of steroids. Steroids are hard on the organs like the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and others, and also can cause diabetes.
- One great long-term therapeutic for allergies is Apoquel. It's a pill that can be given daily, every other day, or twice a day, depending on the severity of the allergy reaction.
- One of our favorites is Cytopoint, an injectable that lasts anywhere from four to twelve weeks, averaging six to eight weeks. Outside of a yearly exam, this is something a technician can administer, so it doesn’t require an office visit fee. Cytopoint is safe and has no side effects.
- Antihistamines like Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton may work in mild cases but usually not. They work great for mucous membrane allergies but not for skin allergies. Antihistamines cause more sedation than they do help with itching.
- Atopica is a medication that can help with allergies, but it can cause some nausea, and it can be cost-prohibitive for most families.
- Immunotherapy is the process where a patient is given gradually increased doses of an allergen that will cause their immune system to become less sensitive to the allergen. The effectiveness of immunotherapy has given us mixed results. One out of three dogs responds well to the therapy. Two out of three dogs see mild improvement, and the last third see no improvement at all. Most patients still need other medications to control the allergy.
Environmental allergies are the most common cause of dogs and cats being itchy. We want to stress that even if your dog has horrible environmental allergy symptoms, 90% of the time, it can be managed well with any of the above therapies. Sometimes even a medicated shampoo helps because it helps put a barrier on the skin and protects them from the allergens contacting the skin. Those are all options that you can talk about with your veterinarian about treating your pet's itchiness.