Pet allergies are the pits!

Pet allergies (mostly seen in dogs and cats) are diagnosed far more frequently these days than in the past. This is probably due to a combination of factors - more pets being taken to vets, better diagnostic tools, an increased allergen load in the environment, and probably indiscriminate breeding.

Any animal can be allergic to any substance or product but generally pet allergies fit into one of several broad categories. These are:
1) Contact allergies
2) Inhaled allergies (atopy)
3) Food Allergies
4) Flea Allergy

The animal's immune system is responsible for the allergic reaction, which in many cases is seen as an intense itchy skin which makes the animal scratch a lot.However, a food allergy can also lead to vomiting and diarrhoea.

Unfortunately, once an animal is allergic to one factor, the chances are that it is more likely to become allergic to other things in its environment. Likewise, the older the animal gets, the more severe the allergy is likely to become.

As a result, one of the methods used to control pet allergies is to minimise the allergen "load" on allergy prone individuals. This involves measures like using hypo-allergenic shampoos to wash the pet, minimising the flea and tick load on the animal, feeding hypo allergenic diets etc.

The first and most important step in treating an allergic reaction in a pet is trying to identify the allergen i.e. what caused the allergic reaction. This is often easier said than done, especially if the condition has been present for some time before professional help is sought.

In most allergy cases the veterinarian (and the suffering pet!) are relying on you to give an accurate account of events leading up to when the symptoms were first observed. An accurate history can eliminate many possible causes straight away and allows the veterinarian to narrow the search down quickly to the most likely set of possibilities. This saves time and money and can speed up the diagnostic process. The faster an accurate diagosis is made, the faster the relief for your pet.

A few warnings are in order though. From a veterinary point of view, allergies can be extremely frustrating! It is not uncommon for weeks and months of diagnostic effort to come up with nothing conclusive in terms of identifying the allergen. This is because many cases are multifactorial in origin, with many allergens possibly playing a roll.

In any event, it is unlikely (although not impossible) that you will be able to "cure" an allergy. Mostly the best you can hope for is to manage the condition by limiting your pets exposure to the offending allergen(s) - the aforementioned allergen load.

There is little or nothing the animal can do to avoid allergens in the food you feed it or the surrounds you keep it in.Your task then, as your pets minder, is to enure that this allergen load is kept to a minimum which in turn will minimise the need for ongoing treatment and will ensure a happier, healthier pet.

Be warned however that pet allergies do present a major challenge to any pet owner as they are often frustrating, time consuming and cost money!