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Allergy season is here!

Willows have again started to see our usual annual upswing in the number of animals

being presented with skin complaints. During the spring/summertime it is common

for allergic skin conditions to manifest, and for those animals that have year round

problems it can get noticeably worse during this period.

Owners of dogs with allergies

will be only too familiar with the

thump-thumping of a hind leg on

the floor, or the sound of constant

head shaking or foot chewing. The

impact on the animals concerned can

range from mild itchiness to severe

discomfort, which can have a real

impact on their general wellbeing.

Allergic dogs and cats do not always

present with classic ‘scratching’ –

it is important to also watch out

for chewing of feet, rubbing of

faces, recurrent ear infections and

(especially in cats) more time spent

grooming than is usual.

The reason for the seasonality which

is often seen in this type of condition

varies between individuals, depending

on what triggers their skin problems.

Sometimes there is a very clear

allergy to, for example, grass or tree

pollens, but in other cases it will not

be quite so straightforward.

In dermatology it is often useful

to think of an itchiness ‘threshold’

above which an animal will start

to show clinical signs; a number of

different factors can bring an animal

over this threshold. For example, a

seasonal grass allergy could combine

with a sensitivity to fleas, and if

a dog subsequently develops an

overgrowth of yeasts in the skin, this

might be the trigger for the start of

clinical signs.

Treatment therefore ideally needs to

be tailored to the individual and aims

to address their specific needs. The

best way of doing this is usually by

investigating different factors which

may be playing a part, although

it is also often possible to treat

more symptomatically.

One of the first things we generally

need to do is to treat any bacterial

or yeast infections, and also make

sure that broad-spectrum parasite

treatment is up-to-date to exclude

this as a factor. Depending on the

case we will sometimes then also do

skin scrapes or other tests to look for

specific mites and organisms.

An exclusion food trial is the most

reliable way of excluding any dietary

allergens, which are another common

trigger for skin issues. The diets we

use for this are either ‘hydrolysed’,

which means the proteins are treated

in such a way that they should not

be able to trigger a reaction, or

‘novel protein source’, which means

finding a protein and carbohydrate

combination which the animal

should not have been exposed

to before.

Specific allergy testing can also be

considered, if desired. This is done

either using serology (a blood test) or

intradermal testing (injecting small

amounts of allergens into the skin

and monitoring the development

of little bumps, which indicate a

reaction). This will generally give a

very accurate picture of the things

the animal is allergic to and, as well

as hopefully allowing avoidance

strategies to minimise exposure to

these things, can also be used to

formulate a type of ‘vaccine’ which

aims to desensitise the animal to the

allergens over a period of time.

Treatment of some allergic dogs may

only be needed during certain seasons,

but in others has to be year-round.The

options we now have available range

from omega-3 and -6 supplements

to reinforce the skin’s barrier against

allergens, through antihistamines and

other anti-itch medications, all the

way up to immunotherapy vaccines,

which are given by injection over

several months and are continued

at intervals lifelong if they seem to

be effective.

We are always happy to

discuss different management

options with you if you think

your dog may be affected -

0121 712 7070