Itching, scratching, continual licking and biting, hotspots, inflamed skin, lumps and bumps. All of these are typical signs of allergic dermatitis. Allergic dermatitis, technically called atopic dermatitis or atopy, is a disease where the cat or dog becomes sensitized to environmental proteins called allergens. Not surprisingly, skin conditions are the number one condition treated by vets.
When exposed to allergens, the immune system of an allergic animal produces allergen specific Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These IgE antibodies then attach themselves to mast cells in the body. The next time the pet encounters that allergen, the allergen will attach itself to the IgE antibody-mast cell combination which causes the mast cell to disintegrate. This “explosion” releases the chemicals contained in the cell and cell membrane including histamines that cause the itching and inflammation seen in allergic reactions. In people, mast cells are concentrated near the eyes, nose and throat resulting in stuffy noses, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing. In animals, mast cells are concentrated on the sides of the face, paws, armpit and groin.
Most people are allergic to several substances and the same holds true for our pets. Causes of allergic reactions can range from flea-bite sensitivities, food or airborne allergens, chemicals encountered in the environment, diet and even reactions to vaccinations. The skin is the largest organ in the body and one of its primary functions is to detoxify the body. Many holistic practitioners believe “hot spots” are the result of toxins the body trying to leave the body. Typical treatments for allergies include steroids, antihistamines, antibiotics and even tranquilizers. These options can provide temporary relief but prolonged use can create other, more serious problems such as liver, adrenal or kidney disease.
Allergies in pets have become so common that most pet owners will face the problem at one time or another during their pet’s life. There are several reasons for the increase:
- Flawed or Inferior food – Today, many commercial pet foods are loaded with processed inferior- quality ingredients, chemicals and additives that contribute to ill health or are allergic triggers.
- Poor breeding practices - There are increasing numbers of dogs with genetic weaknesses because our dogs are bred for looks and not for hardiness and function. These genetic flaws are passed on to both purebred puppies and cross over to mixed breeds as well.
- Overvaccination – Frequent powerful and multiple vaccines can cause massive insults to the immune system leading to allergies and other dysfunctions.
- Chemicals – We have an abundance of chemicals in both our food and environment.
So, faced with these obstacles, what can you do? A few simple suggestions to help are:
- Feed a better-quality diet and supplement with vitamins and minerals. This simple practice should help boost the immune system and reduce the potential for or intensity of the allergy.
- Try to switch to a higher quality protein food. There are fewer potential allergens in higher quality protein and a more natural, wholesome diet may reduce allergic reactions.
- Remember that there is often a combination of things creating allergic reactions such as food, fleas and pollen. If you can eliminate just one of the offenders you may be able to bring the allergy down to manageable levels.
- Try to use natural, non-toxic products around the house.
- Keep dust in the house under control.
- Shampooing can provide temporary relief by getting allergens off of the coat. If a shampoo is going to work, it should give relief for twelve to forty-eight hours. Try a different shampoo if it doesn’t.
- Switch from plastic to ceramic bowls for food and water. Plastic can cause reactions around the face.
No one wants their pet to suffer needlessly. If you are having trouble pinpointing the source of the allergy please come in and talk to us. We are happy to offer recommendations to help relief the itch.