Your pet started scratching a few weeks ago. The first week, the scratching was minimal, but now the excessive activity is disrupting the household. Your pet is constantly chewing, rubbing, licking, and scratching. You are annoyed by the disturbance, but know your pet is suffering. The trained veterinary team at Otay Pet Vets tells you that your pet likely has an allergy, because allergic pets become extremely itchy and may develop crusty skin lesions, rather than the sneezing and irritated eyes that people suffer. How do you stop your pet’s itchiness? The team at Otay Pet Vets explains the steps to take to relieve your pet’s suffering.

Step #1: Does your pet have a flea allergy?

Flea bite allergies are the most common hypersensitivities seen in pets. When a flea bites your pet, their saliva is injected into the skin, and your pet reacts to the substances in the flea’s saliva. One flea bite can cause a profound response. The process involves:

  • Examination — Your Otay Pet Vet veterinarian examines your pet thoroughly for fleas. The hair in their coat is spread apart in multiple locations looking for the parasites. Finding a flea on your pet may indicate that your pet is dealing with a flea bite allergy. 
  • No fleas — No fleas are found, but your pet has been grooming excessively, and they may have removed all the offending insects. You are instructed to examine your pet’s bedding for fleas and flea droppings. Phew! At home, you find no fleas or their droppings.
  • Fleas — If fleas had been found, you would first need to treat your pet’s flea bite allergy by removing all fleas from your pet’s body. This involves bathing them with medicated shampoos and using flea combs to remove every flea. Your pet would then be put on a year-round flea preventive. You would also have to eradicate all fleas from your pet’s environment.

Step #2: Does your pet have a food allergy?

Your pet may develop an allergy to a specific food. Proteins are typically the offending substance, but carbohydrates and preservatives have been known to cause problems. Your pet may also exhibit vomiting or diarrhea if they have a food allergy.

  • Food trial — Your pet is placed on a strict food trial for 10 weeks to determine if a food allergy is causing their itchiness.
    • Their diet must be completely novel. You survey the food label on your pet’s dog food bag and see that the protein is beef. You read the entire ingredient list to ensure the same carbohydrate and preservatives are not included in the novel diet.
    • Common novel diets include venison and sweet potatoes, rabbit and green peas, and kangaroo and oats. You decide your pet will prefer the venison and sweet potato diet.
    • A hydrolyzed diet is another food trial option that involves breaking down the protein to such a small level that the body no longer recognizes the protein as a threat.
    • After 10 weeks on the trial, your pet is as itchy as ever, and their condition has actually worsened. Your pet now has a bald area at the base of their tail.
  • No food allergy — Since the food trial did not help, your pet does not seem to have a food allergy.
  • Food allergy — If the trial had helped, the ingredients from your pet’s original food would gradually have been reintroduced to see which one was the problem. Once identified, this ingredient would be forever abolished from your pet’s diet.

Step #3: By elimination, does your pet have an environmental allergy?

A pet with an environmental allergy (i.e., atopic dermatitis) can be reacting to substances such as pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander. Since flea and food allergies have been ruled out, your pet is diagnosed with atopic dermatitis. But, which substance is the allergen?

  • Allergy testing — Allergy testing is recommended to determine the allergens affecting your pet.
    • Serologic testing is one possibility, but the results do tend to be unreliable.
    • Intradermal testing is typically more accurate. A small dose of allergen is injected into your pet’s skin. If a red bump forms, your pet is allergic to that agent.

The results show that your pet is allergic to dust mites and pollen. Without sealing your pet in a bubble, you cannot prevent them from being exposed to these allergens.

  • Treatment — Several options can be helpful.
    • Steroids are routinely used to help quiet the initial extreme inflammation, but should not be used long term.
    • The Otay Pet Vets team recommends and explains hyposensitization therapy, which involves injecting gradually increasing amounts of the offending allergens into your pet to desensitize them to pollen and dust mites.
    • Frequent bathing using a medicated shampoo can help soothe your pet’s irritated skin and remove allergens from their skin and hair coat.

You decide to follow the Otay Pet Vet team’s recommendation and choose hyposensitization therapy for your pet. Your pet’s signs are improved after two months, and six months later, your pet could be itch-free, thanks to your dedication. 

Unfortunately, allergies cannot be cured, and they require lifelong management for your pet, but you are confident, since you will always have our devoted veterinary team to help you care for your pet. If your pet is itchy, do not hesitate to contact us at Otay Pet Vets to set up an appointment for us to evaluate your pet and stop their suffering.