by Meggie Garvey, DVM

It’s that time of year again – allergy season! With warmer weather and grasses and trees growing again, many of our pets become very itchy. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

When dogs (or cats) itch, the most common reason is allergies. There are other causes that must be ruled out first such as fleas, lice, mites, and sometimes ringworm. Dogs can have allergies to food or environmental allergens such as grasses, pollens and dust mites. Allergies cause problems with the immune system and in dogs signs of allergies are ear infections, itchy skin, pimples or crusty red skin on the abdomen, red feet that a dog licks a lot, and anal gland problems. Cats with allergies can have chronic diarrhea or bald patches of skin from excessive licking. A food trial of a hypoallergenic food is the way to diagnose or rule out a food allergy. Pets that are itchy just during the warm months have allergies to pollens and things outside. In order to figure out what specifically a dog is allergic to, allergy testing can be performed – just like in people. There is a skin test and also a simple blood test. Once we figure out what a pet is allergic to, we can treat them with allergy shots, similar to people. The idea behind this is to give a small amount of the offending allergen every day to desensitize the immune system until the body no longer reacts to it. This is the best way to treat environmental allergens.

Sometimes dogs have such itchy skin that we need to do something about it – fast. In these cases there are a lot of different medications to help treat itchy skin such as steroids, antihistamines, omega 3 fatty acids, and a new medication called Apoquel. Topical treatment with special shampoos or medicated wipes and sprays also helps give relief. Sometimes dogs have traumatized or licked their skin so much they cause a skin infection and these need to be treated with antibiotics.

Allergies are a common and frustrating problem, but there are many things we can do to help. If your pet is itchy, please give us a call!