Many of us are allergic to animals, but it is less well known that our pets have allergies as well.
Most develop when the animal is between one and five years old, and they can affect any body system.
In cats, the most common allergy is to fleas, or more specifically flea saliva, and one bite can be enough to flare up a nasty dermatitis, with scabbing and irritation near the base of the tail.
Cats don’t scratch, instead they over-groom. They have rough hairs on their tongues so when they repeatedly groom, they remove all evidence of fleas, but break the hairs, causing the lumbar back to feel spiky and often look bald. This condition is easily controlled with medication, but often won’t resolve fully until the allergy and secondary infection is dealt with, and it is likely to recur if flea control is not maintained.
Any expiratory wheeze or breathing problem should be checked by your vet, but in a young cat asthma will probably be high on the list of causes. It is managed by antihistamines, steroid injections, or even inhalers.
In dogs, flea allergies are common, but you should see evidence in the coat. Again, the lumbar area is usually affected and flea control is key.
Asthma is very uncommon in dogs, but skin allergies are seen. These tend to affect the under-surface of the tummy, paws and face. Increasingly, we are seeing recurrent ear infections and irritation around the anus that may be allergic as well.
Often symptoms are worse in the summer, but some dogs are affected all year round and may be allergic to something they are eating or something at home like other pets.
If allergens are identified it is possible to ‘vaccinate’ with regular injections to minimise the body’s response. We also use antihistamines, diets and medications.
Dogs are also affected by ‘urticaria’, or hives. The most common cause is contact with a plant or an insect bite. Typically, the dog will have multiple sudden onset swellings over the body, sometimes affecting the facial folds or ear flaps as well. It may compromise the airway so seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.
Cats and dogs sometimes present with runny eyes and nose. This can be hay fever, but it isn’t a very common complaint so its best to get them checked.
There are many more allergies, but most are relatively easy to control. It is Pet Allergy Week from Monday. See www.animal-allergy.com
By CATRIONA GIBSON, Vet