Itching and Allergies in Pets

By Kim Luikart, DVM 

Coping with an itchy pet can be extremely frustrating. Persistent scratching and chewing can quickly lead to wounds and secondary infections and should be addressed quickly.  In humans, allergies usually result in “hay fever.”  Dogs and cats can sometimes have respiratory allergies, but more commonly experience allergic hypersensitivity as skin problems including redness, itching, recurring skin/ear infections, and hair loss.The most common causes of chronic itching fall into two groups: external parasites and allergies.The major types of allergies include flea hypersensitivity (a response to the flea’s saliva), food allergy, and atopic dermatitis.

External parasites that most commonly cause problems include fleas, lice, or mites.  Fleas are rarely seen in this area but can cause problems, especially in the winter months.

Food Allergy- Pets can develop hypersensitivity to specific components of the diet, usually a protein or carbohydrate such as beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat, or soy.  Diagnosing food allergy requires a food trial in which your pet is fed a prescription limited ingredient diet with ingredients your pet has not eaten before for 10-16 weeks.

Atopic dermatitis- Atopy is an inherited predisposition to allergies associated with pollens, house dust mites, or mold spores.  Diagnosis may be made by ruling out other causes, or in some cases, referral to a specialist for allergy testing.  Symptomatic drug therapy with steroids or other drug therapies often alleviate symptoms.

Secondary infections- Allergies are often the underlying cause of skin and ear infections.  Bacterial and skin infections can increase the level of itching.  Long term treatment with antibiotics and anti-yeast medications, as well as prescription shampoos is commonly required.

Unfortunately there are no cures for allergies and they will remain a lifelong problem.  Our goal is to control the allergies and improve the quality of life for you and your pet.