Allergic Dermatitis

For any pet owner, seeing your dog or cat in a state of itching is always troubling.  Itching may be caused by a variety of things, such as mites, infection, or fleas.  But one of the most common causes of dermatitis – a skin condition that is typically associated with redness, swelling, sores, blisters and/or rashes – is due to allergies or skin sensitivities from external agents (such as environmental, fleas or food-related).

Just as humans suffer from skin irritations and allergic reactions, our four-legged friends are also susceptible to similar allergies and related conditions. In this blog, we’ll explore the three major types of allergic dermatitis, along with the various symptoms and signs.  It is important to understand that allergies cannot be cured; they have to be managed.  And it is a lifetime diagnosis.  Early treatment and preventive measures are much more effective than waiting for full-blow skin disease, so contact us early in the course of the problem.

From seasonal allergies to specific allergies, such as food-related sensitivities, there are a number of factors which may be at the root of your furry friend’s misery. Here is a general list of possible offenders that could be the source of your dog or cat’s allergies and resulting dermatitis:

  • Pet food ingredients, including soy, corn, wheat, dairy products, beef, preservatives and chemical additives
  • Flea bites (in most cases, this is due to your pet’s allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva)
  • Environmental factors, such as mold, pollen, dust mites or certain plants 

Food allergies and sensitivities

Pets are not born with food allergies, they develop over time.  So usually the allergy is to a food they have eaten for quite a while before problems develop.  Food allergies are not seasonal.  The itch can be quite intense, and often involves the face, ears and anal area.

Foods only account for 5-10% of allergy problems, so please talk to us before changing diets.  We will have more information on food allergies in our next blog article.

Flea bite allergies

If you’re noticing your cat or dog is biting, scratching, or licking areas of their body excessively, it may very well be due to a flea bite allergy.  Some animals experience a more severe reaction to flea bites, as they are actually allergic to the flea saliva.

A tell-tale sign of a flea infestation is known as ‘flea dirt’, which is actually dried blood particles left behind by the insect. You may also notice hair loss, blood stains on the skin and coat, a greasy or matted appearance of the hair/fur, inflammation of the skin (particularly inside the ears), scabs/crusting of the skin, and sometimes discharge in the affected areas.

While flea infestations are very common among cats and dogs, recognizing and treating the symptoms right away will reduce the severity of your pet’s discomfort and length of infestation.

However, because some pets are sensitive to certain types of medicated flea dips, shampoos, soaps, flea collars and other topical treatments, you may want to take extra precautions if you know your dog or cat has a preexisting allergic condition or skin sensitivity. Consult your veterinarian for a comprehensive year-round flea control routine, particularly for dogs and cats who suffer severe flea allergy dermatitis.

Seasonal and environmental allergies

If you notice your dog or cat is experiencing acute skin irritations associated with dermatitis, you will want to consult with your veterinarian right away.

He or she may conduct some tests, including skin swabs/scrapings to check for mites and infection, and possibly allergy testing to determine if your pet suffers from allergies (and if so, what specific allergens to avoid).  Topical treatments and regular bathing can decrease the need for use of prescription drugs. If your pet is prone to licking and chewing, a cone (also known as an Elizabethan collar) or other alternative may be recommended to prevent your dog from ingesting any topical treatments.

Later in the month we will be publishing another blog article about environmental allergies.