Q: Our dog Bella has allergies that flare up whenever the trees around our house start to bloom. I think the fruit trees, mangoes in particular, make her itch like crazy. Other times of the year can be bad, too. When it happens, we now give her these new anti-itch pills. They work very well but we want to know what’s causing it. Is there anything we can do to find out?
A: Bella is suffering from atopy (also referred to as “atopic dermatitis”). This seasonal malady is a common canine and feline skin condition. It happens when allergens in the environment lead to an inflammation of the skin. “Allergic dermatitis” is what we call the skin’s excessive reaction to these allergens.
Common allergens include the following: pollens (from grasses, trees and weeds), mold spores, dust mites insects and other miscellaneous proteins that may also come from human skin or natural fibers, for example. But it’s hard to tell which allergens are causing the problem.
Pets with atopy become very itchy, which leads to skin damage and secondary skin infections, which is why treatment so often addresses the itch and the infections. New non-steroidal anti-itch medications are now available to effectively quell the itch and largely prevent the infections. However, antibiotics and medicated shampoos may be necessary if they do ensue.
As you’ve intimated, though, the ideal solution is to find out what’s causing the problem. Given that every affected animal suffers a highly individualized, version of the disease, determining what an animal is allergic to can be next to impossible without special testing. Intradermal (skin) testing and/or serum testing (blood testing) are typically undertaken.
Intradermal skin testing can sometimes be performed at your veterinarian’s office. However, because the allergens used for this test are very specific (they vary depending on your region of the country), your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for this test to be performed. Serum testing is more widely available. Your general practitioner can typically perform it. The results of either tests will reveal which allergens are causing an allergic reaction in your pet. They can even tell how severe the allergy is to each allergen.
Armed with these answers your veterinarian can now have a laboratory produce a custom-made allergy vaccine for your pet. While in many cases the vaccine is no more effective than other remedies, it may be safer and less expensive over the long term.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to email@example.com.