When you have allergies, you KNOW you have allergies, but how can you be sure your furry companion doesn’t have their own bout with the worst the season has to offer?
Some 10-15 per cent of dogs suffer some form of environmental allergy, whether seasonal or due to dust mites, according to Dr. Enid Stiles, a Quebec veterinarian and member of the executive committee of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Stiles says cats seem to suffer from fewer such allergies, and symptoms may present differently.
For dogs, a good giveaway that they’re suffering from seasonal allergies is not runny noses or watery eyes, but excessively scratching or chewing their own skin.
Aside from being a maddening experience for pets, Stiles says the scratching or chewing can lead to more serious ailments.
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“Just the fact that they are scratching and itching so much, we can see that they end up developing secondary infections, both bacterial or yeast infections, and some of those can be quite serious and need long treatment, with most times, anti-microbials or anti-fungals, bathing, and other medications just for the allergies themselves,” Stiles says.
Cats, meanwhile, are more prone to asthma than dogs, and though the condition is still quite rare, it can still be dangerous.
“It is often related to environmental allergens, whether it be seasonal or...year-round. We do see asthma in cats, that can be life threatening,” Stiles says.
Fortunately for you and your pet, the last few years have seen great progress in pet allergy treatments.
Until quite recently, vets could prescribe antihistamines to ailing pets, that would work in around 20-50 per cent of dogs, in tandem with immunosuppressants to keep the allergens' effects at bay.
But aside from methods such as these, Stiles says several new products have come on the market over the past few years that have shown great results so far.
The first, an anti-itch medication for dogs, has proven very effective, and a new course of antibody injections has also proved promising. Immunotherapy, the equivalent of allergy shots, has also advanced, such that it can now be administered through oral drops.
By contrast, medication for cats has not advanced at the same pace, but though new advances haven’t quite been approved for cats, there’s still plenty of antihistamines and immunosuppressants in a given vet’s arsenal.
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Once vets know that a particular pet has seasonal allergies, they can then prepare clients on proper care and prevention, including how to reduce pets’ exposure to allergens.
“Dogs who suffer serious allergies, we can’t keep them from going outside, they have to do their business out there, so try and avoid the areas where ragweed is occurring, show our clients what ragweed looks like as an example, and the season in which it is occurring,” Stiles says.
At the same time, Stiles says pet owners shouldn’t automatically assume that the symptoms of scratching and gnawing are solely the result of allergies, discounting other ailments such as parasites, fleas or mites on the skin. As well, Stiles says food allergies may also be the culprit, and they can develop at any time in a pet’s life.
“So many people will say to us, well, it can’t be food because the dog’s been on the same food for the last four years, but unfortunately we know that they can develop allergies to their food,” Stiles says. “It’s often a very complicated thing, and we will never be able to get rid of allergies, so we’re always talking about trying to reduce the symptoms. The dog will always be allergic. It’s just, can we help in reducing their symptoms, can we help keep people more comfortable, and keep them from having more serious conditions like infections and asthma.”