Does your pet suffer from allergies?
How often have you noticed your pet itching, scratching, licking or biting itself? After ruling out the basic and most common causes of “pruritis” (itchiness) such as fleas or obvious skin infections, one needs to investigate further in order to diagnose the cause of the itch. It may be surprising to some, but animals can suffer from allergies too and it is often these allergies that are the beginning of the entire itching snowball.
An allergy is a heightened immune response to a foreign and often innocuous substance, usually a protein known as an allergen, which frequently has a genetic link. On contact with the body’s immune system, a reaction is mounted to try and rid the body of these 'allergens', as the body interprets these as being harmful. In so doing, inflammatory mediators are released, which then result in the symptoms we interpret as allergies.
Common Symptoms of Allergies
Any organ system can be affected but it is often the skin that is predisposed as it is the largest organ in the body, has a huge surface area exposed to the environment and is readily visible.
An allergic skin also has an altered defence mechanism, constantly predisposing it to developing secondary skin conditions. It is these conditions (ear infections, reddened skin, bacterial and fungal infections, areas of self trauma, hairless areas, mites etc) that are often the initial cause of concern to owners.
What would my pet be allergic to?
Animals can be allergic to anything in the environment, from dust mites to pollens and even foods. In general, animals prone to allergies tend to have concurrent allergies and are not just allergic to one specific thing.
The best way to identify what your pet is allergic to is to perform allergen testing through your veterinarian. In South Africa, an allergy test can be done through Spectrum Laboratories where a sample of your pet's blood is taken and used to identify the specific allergens your pet is reactive to. With this knowledge, specific treatment protocols can be tailored for your individual pet – resulting in a greater treatment success rate.
How can I treat my pet's allergy?
Once the allergens your pet is allergic to have been identified, your vet can create a unique treatment protocol specific for your pet. Known allergens can be avoided, eg foods, and the body can be taught, through hyposensitisation, to lessen its reaction to those which are unavoidable, eg pollen.
Hyposensitisation involves exposing the body to its specific reactive allergens at designated intervals and at increasing concentrations in order to teach the immune system that these are not a threat, thus decreasing the immune systems inappropriate response to the allergens and consequently the allergic symptoms. On average, 70% of truly allergic patients respond very well to hyposensitisation.
A combination of conventional therapies for treatment of the secondary problems is often used in conjunction with the hyposensiting. Steroids, antihistamines and antibiotics may be used to help overcome a bout of severe itchiness. However, with chronic hyposensitising, the requirement and frequency for these medications generally decreases, as do the negative side effects associated with the use of some of these therapies.
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