Why is My Pet Itchy?

Allergies are often the underlying cause of recurring skin or ear infections, which can further increase itching.  An allergy occurs when a protein that enters the body is recognized by the immune system as a foreign invader.  It may be beneficial to pursue a possible allergy diagnosis if your pet is having recurring issues such as these to see if an allergy is the cause. Unfortunately, there is no cure for an allergy, but our veterinarians and staff can help to create the best management plan possible for you and your pet.  The first step to managing your pet’s allergies, is to determine if the allergen is environmental or food related.

Food Allergies:

Many pets suffer from an intolerance or allergy to certain foods. A food intolerance is when a pet is sensitive to that food, but not related to an immune response. A food allergy occurs when proteins from a food are deemed foreign by the immune system, causing an immune response.

Food allergies can occur in any breed at any age. Most often the skin is what suffers the most. A food elimination trial with a hypoallergenic diet is used to determine whether or not a food allergy or intolerance is the source of the problem. This process can be difficult and time consuming, but it is a very important step in treating food allergies.

Symptoms:                                                 1545738_10152573157481710_5560571400925534883_n

  • Non-seasonal itchiness
  • Hair loss
  • Skin lesions
  • Red, itchy ears
  • Hot spots (rashes)
  • Gastrointestinal upset

To determine whether a food allergy or intolerance is the source of a skin problem, a hypoallergenic diet is fed for about three months during a food elimination trial. If your pet recovers during this trial, the original diet likely had an ingredient that was the root of the problem. The hypoallergenic diet provides a protein source that your pet is less likely to be allergic to, by using novel protein sources such as duck, venison, Salmon etc. These veterinary prescription diets are also recommended for their strictly controlled production, thoroughly cleaning the entire manufacturing plant before production. The final product is also tested to ensure no contamination by other protein sources. It is important to feed this diet exclusively during the trial, or your odds of success are decreased. This includes treats and edible chew toys like rawhides. After the trial is complete and your pet has been diagnosed with a food allergy, you can begin to experiment with protein sources to see which foods they are sensitive to. Our staff can provide more information on this step. This process can be very difficult and time consuming, but it is a very important step in managing food allergies.

Atopic Allergies:

Atopic allergies occur in the same manner as a food allergy, except the immune system is triggered by an airborne particle from the environment that is inhaled or comes in contact with the skin.

It can be difficult to determine whether an allergy is atopic or from food, but some signs that the allergen may come from the environment include: 

Symptoms:                                                                           284090_10150249454601710_1943300_n

  • Seasonal itchiness
  • Young age of onset (1 to 3 years usually)
  • Good response to steroid-based medication
  • Typical irritation pattern

Atopic allergies occur when the immune system reacts to an airborne particle that is inhaled or comes in contact with the skin. This typically causes a seasonal itchiness and tends to begin early in a pet’s life, between the ages of 1 and 3. It can be difficult to determine whether an allergy is atopic or from food, but some additional symptoms that the allergen may come from the environment include a good response to steroid-based medication and a typical irritation pattern .

If you suspect your pet may have an atopic or food allergy, our veterinarians can help you out with a diagnosis and a management plan for you and your pet.

At home tips to control atopic allergies:

  • Bathe your pet regularly to reduce allergen exposure (you can also talk with our veterinarians about therapeutic shampoos that may benefit your pet).
  • Avoid stuffed toys and wash bedding regularly. This also helps minimize exposure
  • Use an air-conditioning or air filter system
  • Keep your pet away from the lawn while it is being mowed
  • Minimize houseplants

Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies and it usually a life-long condition. However, our veterinarians and staff can work with you to formulate a plan for you and your pet to ensure the best quality of life possible.