Allergies are becoming more and more common both in people and in animals. In this leaflet, we will discuss some of the commonest causes and how to reduce the problems they cause. By an allergy we mean that the body's defence mechanism has become sensitised to something, usually a protein, and if the animal comes into contact with that protein, then the body reacts causing problems such as skin disease, diarrhoea, itchy ears, eyes or feet.
Animals are most commonly allergic to fleas, their saliva and their faeces, then inhaled allergens such as pollens and human dander, then foods such as milk, beef and wheat gluten. Other common allergies are the saliva of mosquitoes and mange mites. They are also occasionally allergic to things they walk on, such as grass or carpets.
It has been shown that about a third of skin and ear irritations are associated with food allergies. They also are a common cause of recurrent enteritis. In order to rule out food allergy as a cause of the problem we need to change your pet onto a diet that we hope contains nothing that your pet could be allergic to and it must not eat anything else and only drink water. The most important things to cut out are dairy products, common proteins and gluten as these are often the cause and are normally found in pet food and in the treats that we all give our pets.
We recommend either special prescription diets or home prepared exclusion diets for the initial diagnosis of problems. Your pet should have just these and water for up to three months. Most food allergies will settle down after three to six weeks, and if your pet still has a problem after three months then it is unlikely to be a food allergy. We try to choose a diet that contains proteins and carbohydrates that your pet is not used to. However, we may need to try a period on two different diets.
The important thing to remember is that if your pet is on a trial diet, it must have nothing else, especially not milk, biscuits or tea. Even the tiny amount of milk in a cup of tea is enough to keep the allergy going. If your pet is used to treats and tit-bits you can't just stop them but you could try replacing them with some of the special diet.
These are probably the second commonest cause of allergic skin problems but also are the most difficult to control completely, especially nowadays when we all have central heating and fitted carpets. The commonest allergens are house dust mites, fleas faeces and human dander(which is the microscopic flakes of skin that we are all continually shedding).
Both house dust mites and flea larvae live in the carpets feeding on human dander. They love central heating and fitted carpets, especially in kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms. Vacuuming and shampooing the carpets, although helping to keep the numbers down, will not get rid of them completely.
The best method of reducing the number of inhaled allergens to a minimum is to confine your pet to a carpet-less area which is kept scrupulously clean and preferably un-heated. Unfortunately, this is totally impractical in most homes nowadays and so we need to find a more practical method of reducing the challenge.
Reducing the Challenge
- Wash your pet's bedding with a non-biological washing powder at least twice weekly (bean-bags are never a success).
- Use a vacuum cleaner (when your pet is not there!) that is recommended for use in the homes of people with asthma as these pick up the allergens.
- Treat the whole house and car with Indorex (as this will kill house dust mites too) and repeat regularly.
- Get your pet to lie on things that are easy to keep clean, such as old cotton sheets or Vetbed. These can be moved around the house and put on chairs or beds so as to provide a barrier between your pet and the allergens and should be washed at least twice a week.
- In summer we would recommend your pets spend as much time out of doors as possible (as long as they are not allergic to grass or pollen!).
- Keep your pet out of the bedrooms as these are often full of allergens.
Allergy to Insect Bites
As some people react to insect bites, so do some of our pets. This is why one pet in the house may have problems whilst all the rest are normal. The commonest cause are flea, tick and harvest mite bites, but any insect can cause allergic reactions. To control these we must control the insects and that, of course depends on the type involved. As the various products control different insect groups we will recommend a suitable product to suit the circumstances.
Accurate diagnosis involves skin scrapes, biopsies, blood samples and intra dermal skin tests. We can then use avoidance techniques and hyposensitisation vaccinations, which can work well.
However, we often find that it is impossible for people to completely eliminate the cause of the problem without making their pets' lives a misery, therefore we do use several types of medication to reduce the severity of the reactions. Allergic animals are usually better on essential oil supplements and also various herbal food supplements, and so we use these a lot. Also, as in people, antihistamines may help to reduce the allergy without causing long-term problems. Hypoallergenic shampoos can help as well.
In severe cases, we will usually use anti-inflammatory drugs such as Apoquel, Atopica and/or steroids as well to control the problem. These work well, but must be used with care if we are to avoid long-term side-effects.