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Allergies in Dogs and Cats
Allergies are a very common problem for dogs and cats in many parts of the country but especially in the Phoenix area. Our beautiful weather allows many plants to bloom year-round but that can also mean that a pet suffering from environmental allergies here may also have problems year-round and not just during certain seasons.
The three main categories of allergies are environmental (pollens, grasses, trees, molds, dust, dust mites, etc.), food (usually a protein source), and fleas (thankfully we don't see those much around here - the weather helps us in this case because it is so dry). The most common are environmental with only 10-25% of pets having food allergies. Most of the time a pet with allergies will have skin problems but a few can have respiratory or gastrointestinal signs.
Itchiness is the most common sign associated with allergic skin disease but there are many other diseases that can cause itchiness so a complete history of the pet's problems, a physical exam, and some diagnostic tests are needed to make the diagnosis of allergic skin disease. Some of these tests include a skin scraping (not as bad as it sounds!), an impression smear of the affected skin, bloodwork, intestinal parasite exam (fecal), fungal culture, bacterial culture and sensitivity, ear cytology, combing to check for fleas, a novel protein food trial, and blood or skin allergy testing.
Even when a pet is diagnosed with allergic skin disease, there may be other infections or diseases that have developed secondary to the allergies. The above tests can help determine if these are present. Depending on the severity of the allergies and whether or not the pet has any secondary conditions, will determine the recommended treatment. For instance, it is very common for pets with allergies to also have ear infections. If you do not treat the ear infection along with the allergic skin disease, then the pet will not improve.
Allergic skin disease can be a frustrating disease since there are many variables associated with it and we do not have a cure, but it can also be very rewarding to treat since most of the time we can manage the disease well and make the pet much more comfortable.