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Pet Allergy Week (PAW) The Skin Story
6 - 12 June 2016
6 June 2016
The 6th-12th June sees the return of Pet Allergy Week to the UK, again aiming to raise awareness of allergies in pets. Allergies in pets are an increasingly common problem, with around 15% of the canine population estimated to be affected by environmental allergy (atopic dermatitis). An allergy is when there is an abnormal immune response to normally harmless substances (allergens) that are tolerated without problems by most of the population. In humans, allergies often manifest with signs of hay fever, asthma and eczema but pets usually show symptoms of itchy skin and ear disease.
What are pets allergic to?
Dogs and cats can be allergic to the bites of fleas, which are ubiquitous parasites in the UK. The resulting skin disease called flea allergy dermatitis causes itching around the base of the back, neck and hindlimbs. It is not necessary to see fleas on animals affected by this condition as the problem results from an allergic reaction to even small numbers of these parasites. Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common allergic skin disease in dogs and cats.
Allergies to environmental allergens are also commonly encountered. In the UK, dogs and cats most commonly react to dust and storage mites found around the home environment, although reactions to the pollens of weeds, trees and grasses are also seen.
Dogs and cats can also be allergic to food ingredients. Food allergies often present with itching and redness of the skin, but can also cause intestinal signs such as diarrhoea and vomiting. Foods such as chicken, beef, soy, lamb, wheat, milk and corn have all been implicated in causing food allergy in dogs and cats.
How is allergy diagnosed?
Allergies are diagnosed by evaluation of the pet’s history, clinical examination and the ruling out of other diseases. Allergy testing, such as intradermal testing depicted below, can be useful to try and identify allergens involved in the problem. Alternatively, blood tests can also be used on occasions.
Intradermal allergy testing
How is allergy treated?
The best form of treatment is to avoid the offending allergen. In the case of flea allergy, effective and regular parasite treatment to all in-contact pets is vital. In the case of food allergy, avoidance of the particular food item is key. However, avoidance of environmental allergens is more difficult, and treatment usually relies either on long term drugs or a desensitising vaccine. This vaccine, which is also called immunotherapy, and is made up containing the allergens identified on allergy testing, can offer some pets with environmental allergy an alternative to long drugs to control their symptoms.
For further information see our Food Allergy Information Sheets
See also our Dermatology Specialist page