May 16, 2006 > Ah-Choo! and Chew
Ah-Choo! and Chew
by Nancy Lyon
This is a pretty miserable time of year for those of us that suffer from allergies. The heavy rains brought in their wake a profusion of pollen bearing plants with a promise of more to come.
Our animal family members are subject to the same misery brought on when their immune system--the system that protects the body from foreign and potentially infectious substances--overreacts to some material.
In addition to pollen, many other things can be the offender- dust, mold, an ingredient in pet food, a household chemical, an insect bite - that can set off an alarm in the immune system, causing it to pump large amounts of white blood cells, hormones, and other material called histamines into the bloodstream. There can be a range of symptoms including itchy, swollen skin--known as pruritis--difficulty breathing, or a disruption of the digestive tract such as vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms are the animal equivalent of a human's sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes.
If you have an animal with allergies, you know the misery it can cause the poor creature. Having had a dog that was subject to a myriad of sensitivities, I know it's a lifelong chronic problem but there are many ways to help them feel better. Of course, you've first got to find out what is causing the allergic reaction, then take steps to ensure there is as little exposure as possible and find ways to help boost their immune system.
According to my dog's allergist there are four main categories: contact, food, inhalant and flea allergens.
Flea allergies are the most common; the reaction comes from a reaction to proteins in the flea's saliva. Once sensitized an animal can severely itch from only one bite. Because fleas are endemic in our area, it will take a concentrated effort to protect our animals. It's important to work with your veterinarian to find the right flea repellent and dosage because if used in the wrong concentration, they can be extremely toxic. You're also going to have to treat your environment, keeping bedding and carpeting clean and flea free.
Inhalant allergies are like hay fever from pollen and mold that affect us in the spring and fall seasons. Animals are often sensitive to more than one of these air-borne particles. As with humans, they can be produced by dust mites, mildew, molds or chemicals within our homes. Severe itching with related licking and chewing can result in "hot spots" and generalized hair loss. Licking can break down the skin and allow infection to complicate the problem. The areas most frequently affected are the ears, feet, armpits and groin.
Food allergies can cause a lot of different symptoms that include itching, digestive disorders and respiratory distress. Diet can be a complicated factor in pet allergies. Most animals are not born with allergies to food; their immune systems develop an allergic response over time to some part of their diet, often one of the animal based proteins.
A food allergy can present itself in a lot of different ways including itching, digestive disorders, and the respiratory distress already mentioned. They can be a real challenge to solve. You can try to figure out what's causing your animal friend's allergic reaction by feeding him different diets, but the allergic effects of food can stay in the system for eight weeks. You may have to keep your animal friend on a special hypoallergenic (non-allergy-causing) diet for eight to 12 weeks to see how he reacts, and you may have to do it several times with several different diets before you find one that doesn't cause an allergic reaction. And while you're feeding these test diets, you'll have to make very sure that your friend doesn't eat any treats, vitamins, leftovers or scraps, or even plants around the house. He has to eat the test diet exclusively for the entire eight to twelve weeks to determine whether he has an allergic reaction to it.
Feed a quality food, free of additives and other chemicals. He may require a special diet but it's less expensive by far than veterinary bills.
Contact allergies are the least common type of allergy in animals. They happen when an animal's skin comes in contact with the material he's hypersensitive to. It can be a new carpet cleaning solution, detergent used to wash bedding, grass spray or similar chemicals. The chemicals in flea collars can cause this problem as well. The skin at the point of contact will be irritated - it may itch, become thickened or discolored, have a strong odor, and/or lose hair due to constant biting or scratching. Contact allergies are generally not a hard problem to solve - they are usually confined to a specific area of an animal's body, and should be easier to identify. You can try removing different materials that your animal friend touches until you find the one that irritates his skin.
Managing allergies takes more than curing the symptoms. It requires your observation, diligence, and communication with your veterinarian to help prevent your animal companion's discomfort. Finding the right cause and treatment from the onset of your animal friend's miserable situation will pay off in the long run
In addition, you may also want to research complimentary veterinary medicine, the holistic approach to a healthy animal at the following websites:
PetSage.com www.petsage.com/art_aller.htm and AltVetMed at www.altvetmed.org.