Snowy scratched and bit at his skin so much that it bled. The 3-year-old West Highland white terrier was miserable.
Skin allergies are common problems among dogs and cats. We often forget that sometimes, just as with humans, our pets can suffer from allergies too. But instead of sniffing and wheezing, dogs and cats often demonstrate their allergies in the form of skin problems.
Numerous outside problems can cause your pet to have an allergic reaction including fleas, food allergies, and even the things that cause you to sneeze and sniffle like pollen or dust mites. With pet foods, common ingredients can sometimes cause skin allergies including corn, dairy products, soy, beef and preservatives and other chemical additives. When pets react to the presence of fleas, they are typically allergic to the flea’s saliva.
Signs of Allergies
With skin allergies, pets do a lot of scratching, biting, and licking of parts of their bodies. If fleas are the cause, you might see the presence of “flea dirt,” the tiny blood spots left behind by the little parasites. Sometimes the hair will fall out or will be stained dark from blood or appear greasy from constant rubbing. The skin may also be inflamed and red, sometimes with discharge. Skin inside the ears may be inflamed. Scabs may be present from constant scratching and bleeding. Some breeds, like the mentioned previously Westie, are more prone to particular types of skin allergies.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If your dog or cat shows these signs, your veterinarian can perform several tests to determine the cause. Depending on the signs, testing can include skin scrapings to see if the cause is a type of parasite, skin swabs to view under the microscope for microscopic parasites, fecal exam to see if the parasite cause is internal, intradermal allergy skin tests, and blood analysis, among others.
For some pets, just the elimination of the offending allergen can solve the problem. For Snowy, a change in food as well as the addition of fatty acid supplements was all that was needed. The veterinarian felt that he had allergic reactions to the red dye in his artificially enhanced burger-looking dog food.
Some pets may require medical treatment such as antiinflammatories, antihistamines, antibiotics or allergy shots, among others. If fleas are the cause, removal of the fleas with medication solves the problem. For fungal infections, medicated shampoo solves the problem. And, finally, topical medications can help treat the irritation.
Keep in mind that often the skin allergy can be a chronic problem that needs to be maintained. But if you recognize the signs early enough before your pet really suffers from inflammation and, with the help of your veterinarian, establish the cause of your pet’s allergies, you can keep him happy and comfortable with routine maintenance.