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Understanding Allergies In Pet
Information Provided by The Heska Allergy Company

What Is An Allergy?

An allergy is a disease in which the immune system reacts abnormally to everyday substances such as pollen, animal dander, insect or flea bites, mold, mites, and certain foods.  Allergic reactions are unpleasant, some are serious, and a few can be fatal.  Allergic reactions can be caused by inhaling what you are allergic to, ingesting a food or object that causes an immune reaction, or getting the substance you are allergic to on your skin.  The substances causing allergies are called allergens.  

What Are The Signs Of An Allergy?

The most common symptom of an allergic reaction in pets is itchy skin.  This itch can lead to excessive scratching and chewing of the skin, resulting in self harm.  A pet may over-groom their fur, causing hair loss.  Pets may rub their bodies or faces against surfaces, causing abrasions or "rug burn."  Some forms of chronic infections, such as chronic ear infections or hot spots, are also the results of an allergic reaction that has become severe. 

Less common symptoms of an allergic reaction are sneezing, runny nose, coughing, distressed breathing, or asthma.  Any distressed breathing or asthma is considered a medical emergency, and you should seek care for your pet right away if they are experiencing distressed breathing.

Food allergies may cause chronic excessive diarrhea or unformed stools, weight loss, a "failure to thrive" despite proper nutrition, and vomiting.

How Do I Know If My Pet Has Allergies?

Not all scratching is due to allergies. (Click Here To Learn More About Flea Bite Dermatitis, The Most Common Cause Of Itchiness In Pets).  The diagnosis of an allergy first requires the veterinarian to eliminate all other possible causes, such as metabolic disorders, skin diseases, adverse reactions to medications, parasites, or fungal infections.  These medical conditions must be resolved first prior to any diagnosis of an allergy.  

True allergies tend to be difficult to resolve using treatment protocols that treat symptomatically, and typically will come back with severity once treatment for the symptoms is stopped.  This is because the actual cause of the symptoms, the allergens (pollen, mites, certain foods, etc), have not been eliminated from the pet's environment and/or diet.  This makes diagnosing allergies difficult, and treatment for your pet frustrating.  We understand you want your pet to have relief from their allergies, but without knowing what your pet is allergic too, they continue to have exposure to their allergens, which continues to cause allergic reaction symptoms, which continue to cause you and your pet distress.

How Does My Pet Get Allergies?

Your pet inherited their ability to become allergic from their parents, as allergic responses come from a pet's individual immune system as defined by their genes.  After continued exposure to allergens, sometimes after months or years, the symptoms of an allergic reaction can become apparent.  This is because it may take repeat exposure to an allergen to "prime" the immune system.  The immune system experiences an allergen as an adverse event, and "remembers" that allergen for the next time there is an exposure.  And, because of an inherited abnormality, the immune's systems response to the allergen becomes increasingly escalated during each adverse exposure event until an allergic reaction results in the symptoms you observe in your pet.

How Are Allergies Diagnosed?

Diagnosing your pet's allergies first starts with eliminating all other possible causes for the symptoms your pet is experiencing.  Once those illnesses are ruled-out or resolved, we will need to take a sample of your pet's blood.  That blood is spun in a centrifuge to separate the components of cells from the serum.  It is the serum that holds your pet's antibodies, those parts of the immune system which attacks allergens.  The serum sample is sent to a laboratory where they expose the antibodies in the serum to various different allergens based upon your pet's regional environment (for pollen, molds, and mites) and food (eggs, various grains, types of meats, etc).  Based upon the response of the antibodies to the allergens, the immunologist at the laboratory determines a pet's level of allergic reaction to the allergens.

How Are Allergies Treated?

Unfortunately, there are no known cures for allergies.  Once a pet has developed an allergic response to certain allergens, they may continue to remain allergic to those allergens for the rest of their life, even though the degree of allergic reaction may wax or wane depending upon the seasonal weather or changes in diet.  They may also develop new allergies to different allergens as they age.  This can make treatment for allergies very frustrating and distressing for both you and your pet.  

Reducing your pet's symptoms and allergic reactions is best approached from multiple treatment angles, as there is no "one size fits all" form of treatment for allergies.  The first step is minimizing a pet's exposure to their allergens, which may necessitate changes in a pet's environment, bathing and grooming habits, and/or diet.  Making these changes may take time as you develop the habits necessary to reduce allergen exposure into your pet's daily care routine.  As hard as it might be at first, please remember that in the long run, these changes made to your daily routine will benefit your pet immensely by reducing their suffering from allergic reactions.

Click Here For Tips In Reducing Your Pet's Exposure To Environmental Allergens

Click Here For Recommended Food Allergy Diets

Consultations with your pet's veterinarian will develop a treatment plan that may include certain medications or immunotherapy.  Remember to follow all directions as given by your pet's veterinarian, and Do Not Abruptly Stop Your Pet's Medication Or Immunotherapy Treatments!  Yes, your pet's symptoms of allergic reaction may have decreased, or have been completely eliminated, by the treatments prescribed by your pet's veterinarian, but that does not mean your pet is "cured" of their allergy!!  

Very frequently pets experience a severe relapse of allergic reaction symptoms because of abrupt stops in their medications or immunotherapy, which may frustrate you because your pet "did not get better" with the recommended treatment, and appears to have gotten worst.  Remember, your pet will have their allergies for the remainder of their lives, and without constant vigilance of their exposure to allergens, will indeed experience relapse when medications that control those allergic reactions are stopped.

Pets on long-term medical management for allergies will require Yearly Comprehensive Physical Examinations & Consultations to renew prescriptions, as well as to run any diagnostic screenings to ensure that any long-term medications they are taking are not causing harm to other organ systems.  Yearly examination is also your time to discuss with the Veterinarian any changes to your pet's environment that could trigger allergic reactions, or other ways of helping you and your pet cope with high-allergen exposure events.  It will also give you an opportunity to discuss any other medical or treatment concerns you have for your pet.

Through cooperation and consultation, you and your pet's veterinarian will be able to help relieve your pet's distress and discomfort from allergies, and improve their quality of life for a lifetime of wellness.  Call 631-696-2400 to schedule your pet's examination and consultation if you suspect your pet may be experiencing allergies.

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I want to thank Dr. Winkler and his staff. They are the most compassionate animal care center ever. And when we recently had to put our kitty down, no where else will you receive the compassion they show. God bless them for their kindness and caring hearts.

Barbara B.
Selden, NY

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