skin allergies in pets tend to fall into three main categories:
1. flea allergic dermatitis or fad
Many cats and dogs are allergic to fleas. In fact, FAD is the most common skin disease in dogs in the United States. Flea allergies often spike in the summer; however, in warmers, and especially humid, climates, FAD can be present throughout the year. Saliva and the degree of pruritis is often more intense and longer-lasting. Signs may include constant itching, biting, clawing, or over-grooming, which may result in a rash, papules or pustules, or raw, irritated and bleeding areas on your pet’s body (sometimes termed hotspots).
Dogs often mount their most intense reactions from the mid-back to the base of the tail, as well as on their thighs and underbelly.
Cats are more likely to manifest their reactions near their neck and face or may develop tiny little scabs along their entire back, known as
Many pets that have seasonal allergies (atopy) are more likely to have an allergic reaction to fleabites as well, creating an overlap in symptoms, which can make the diagnosis of allergic triggers challenging.
2. atopic dermatitis from environmental allergens
Atopy (atopic dermatitis) occurs when your pet’s immune system over-reacts to commonplace and typically innocuous substances in the environment. While some breeds are pre-disposed to atopy, environmental allergies can be diagnosed in any cat or dog. In pets, the most common symptom of allergies is itchy skin (pruritus), which can be like the feet, flanks, ears, and inner thighs, or can be generalized (the whole body).
When pets scratch and chew in response to their itchiness, small abrasions and sores are created, increasing the risk of bacterial and yeast infections, which further exacerbates the itchiness, establishing a vicious cycle. Typically, the bacterial and yeast infections arise from the commensal populations of microorganisms that normally inhabit our skin. When our skin’s barrier is compromised, this normal population has an opportunity to over- multiply, creating an infection. This can occur on the belly, in the ears, between the toes, on the face...wherever there is skin, irritation is possible.
While dermatological signs are most prevalent, some cats and dogs will manifest their allergies with respiratory symptoms like sneezing, watery or irritated eyes, or coughing, like we see more commonly in humans. Other pets may react to the allergens with gastrointestinal upset, which may result in vomiting and diarrhea. Some animals, unfortunately, may experience allergic symptoms in all the aforementioned categories.
3. food allergies
With food allergies, your pet is reacting to a certain component of the diet being consumed. Common symptoms of food allergies include recurrent ear infections, itchy rear ends, and chronic GI upset and gas. While food allergy is less common than the other instigators of allergic dermatitis, we do find many times, animals that have environmental allergies may also have food allergies and/or food sensitivities, and those symptoms can overlap.
When we consider making a dietary transition in an attempt to control allergic disease, we often suggest switching your pet to an elimination diet — What this means is seeking an alternative protein source that your pet has not previously eaten or been exposed to in their diets or treats. For example, if your pet has been eating a chicken formula, you could consider transitioning them to one of Nulo's salmon, turkey or lamb-based recipes. If your pet’s skin condition improves, you can assume that your pet may have been reacting to the beef ingredient.
Of course, we all know that we are not operating in a vacuum, so these are just assumptions not diagnoses. Elimination diet trials take time and patience. You may need to systematically eliminate different ingredients over time, but when you have identified the offending ingredient, the results can be excellent.