Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.
Today I want to address the most common appointments I see at my animal hospital—skin conditions from pet allergies. At least 75% of my patients will visit me at some point in their lives for itching, scratching, licking, hair loss, redness, scabbing and ear infections, including my own dog, Dory! I always get questions like, “Why is my pet so itchy,” and “Can you do something to relieve his or her discomfort so we can get some sleep?” Unlike humans who present with runny noses, coughing, sneezing or red, watery eyes when allergies attack, pet allergies result in generalized itching, skin infections and ear infections.
The most common pet allergies are:
• Food Allergies
• Flea Allergies
• Atopy (environmental pet allergies caused by allergens such as pollens, grasses or soils)
How do I know if my pet has allergies, and what treatment options are there?
The first step is to work with your veterinarian to determine if your pet is suffering from allergies, and if they are, find out what is causing the allergic reaction. A food allergy requires placing your pet on a prescription hypoallergenic diet such as Hill’s pet food. Hill’s Prescription Diet Derm Defense Environmental Sensitivities Chicken Flavor dog food is a great solution for pet parents to effectively manage their pet’s environmental sensitivities. If your dog is on a wet food diet, try Hill’s Prescription Diet Derm Defense Environmental Sensitivities Chicken & Vegetable Stew canned dog food.
For pets that are allergic to fleas, veterinarians can prescribe flea preventatives that are effective, and most importantly, safe for your pets. Environmental pet allergies to things such as pollen, grasses or soils are more difficult to treat, but I am excited about some of the new treatment options discussed below. The second step is to have your veterinarian determine the type of infection your pet has for proper treatment. Many times your veterinarian will recommend skin scrapes, skin cytology, cultures or blood work to assess the type of infection and treat it accordingly.
Once my pet has been diagnosed with allergies and an infection, what can we do to help an itchy pet from suffering?
It is important to allow your veterinarian to assess and make a treatment plan for your pet’s allergy. There are many treatments available, and every pet is unique. Here is my go-to list for treatment of pet allergies and associated skin infections:
•Weekly medicated shampoos prescribed by your veterinarian
•Ask your vet about a prescription formula food that can help alleviate symptoms.
•Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation
•Proper and effective flea and tick preventatives
•Referral to a veterinarian dermatologist
What are the new treatment options for pet allergies and can they really help?
I am so excited for all the wonderful and exciting new treatment options for pets suffering with allergies and severe itchy skin, a condition that has proven extremely difficult to treat. Immunotherapy is changing the way we have treated pet allergies in the past, and it’s much safer, with fewer side effects and more positive results. Immunotherapy consists of a substance given to pets that stimulates an immune response targeting specific environmental allergies in your pets. So how do these new treatments help our pets?
- Apoquel is a pill that uses AK1 & JAK3 inhibitors for treating itching in dogs. Of course you ask, what are AK1 & JAK3 inhibitors? Our immune systems, and our pets’ immune systems, create a group of molecules (proteins, glycoproteins and peptides) called cytokines. Cytokines help stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma. Specific cytokines are released by the immune system to create itchiness, which is the body’s way of fighting certain types of allergies, and letting you know that something is wrong. Apoquel restrains or prevents the release of certain cytokines, but only the cytokines that play a significant role in inflammation and itching caused by allergies. This is the first drug that is able to target only the specific immune response that creates itching! The recommended dose is two times per day for the first 2 weeks and reduced to one time per day to control itching. My goal, for any medication, is to keep pets on the lowest dose possible.
- CAD is a monthly injection for dogs that contains an antibody that targets and neutralizes interleukin-31. But, of course, what in the world is interleukin (IL)-31? Our cells, and those of our pets, make interleukins. Interleukins send signals to the brain to tell our bodies things like, “This is hot,” “My skin is itching,” “This tastes horrible,” “My back hurts,” etc. Scientists have found that interleukin-31 is only found in dogs who have environmental pet allergies (flowers, soils, pollens, etc.). Interleukin-31 tells the brain, “I am itching.” Amazingly, scientists have created an antibody to isolate and attack interleukin-31 to prevent this signal from reaching the brain. The exciting thing about this treatment is that it uses the body’s natural immune response (antibodies attacking foreign particles) to combat itching. The treatment simply interrupts the cycle of itching and inflammation in dogs that have environmental pet allergies. The treatment consists of a monthly injection administered by your veterinarian, or at home if you are comfortable.
I love learning and utilizing treatment options in my practice that help ease suffering in pets. These newer therapies are replacing older treatment options for pet allergies, such as steroids that can be harmful on the body with long-term use. Unfortunately, controlling common allergies and itching in our pets is very difficult and frustrating not just for me as a veterinarian, but more so for my patients and their parents. As I tell my clients and cannot stress enough, pet allergies are not curable, but only manageable.
I am always excited when new research and treatment options are available that are proven to be safe and helpful. As always, my number one goal is to make sure our pets are happy and healthy. I hope this article brings some insight into treatment options for your pet as well as some newer, safer options for itching pets!
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian. They are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets, and can determine if your pet is a candidate for these great new treatment options.