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Allergy season is here!

5 August 2016

Allergy Season Is Here!


Willows are experiencing the usual summer 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.


Allergy Season Is Here!


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