By Klaus Loft, DVM
Anyone who suffers debilitating environmental allergies tied to changing seasons, pet dander or household dust mites knows first-hand the misery of a scratchy throat, itchy eyes or painful rashes.
Not everyone knows, however, that our pets can experience similar allergic reactions — and other very bothersome dermatological issues. But our pets need not suffer in silence. Modern veterinary science has evolved such that advanced, comprehensive treatments are now available to treat a range of skin conditions.
Top pet dermatological issues
Our four-legged friends suffer from some of the same skin issues as we do — and several that we do not. The most common conditions we see at Angell include:
- Parasites, such as mites, fleas and mange (scabies)
- Infectious diseases, such as Staphylococcal pyoderma ("Staph") skin infections, yeast and fungal infections and skin fold infections
- Systemic diseases, such as autoimmune diseases
- Skin cancer, such as Squamous cell carcinoma, cutaneous lymphoma, Mast cell tumors
- Allergies, such as flea allergy dermatitis, adverse food reactions, environmental allergies, etc.
All of these conditions can become serious and, if untreated, dramatically reduce quality of life. But the tremendous strides made in veterinary innovation, however, is very good news for our pets. Specifically, the testing and treatments for allergies now rivals human healthcare in its sophistication, quality of care and long-term health outcomes.
‘Doc, it itches when I do this!’
Unlike humans, dogs and cats cannot tell us about their dermatological health issues. So we as pet owners must look for the signs. The most common indicators that a pet is suffering from some kind of allergy involve frequent episodes of ear infections, red raised or open sores on the skin, constant licking or biting of paws or groin — sometimes causing wounds that will not go away.
Allergies present a particular challenge because there can be hundreds (even thousands) of potential allergens that impact pet health, from foods to pollen from grasses, weeds, trees, dust mites and more. Today’s specialty veterinary hospitals have access to the very latest diagnostic tests to get to the bottom of what’s ailing our pet. Among these tests is the Intra Dermal Test (IDT).
IDT is generally considered the gold standard of testing for identifying allergens that cause pets to suffer from chronic skin and/or ear diseases. IDT involves injections of a series of concentrated allergens into the skin to determine which of them generate allergic reactions in a given animal. The use of fluorescein — a chemical that illuminates the inflammation caused by the injected allergens in order to visualize the strength of individual reactions — is key to accurately diagnosing pet allergies, and is just one of the many ways veterinarians use new technologies to improve care and diagnostics.
The results of IDT (as well as a review of the pet’s medical history) can then inform comprehensive immunotherapy treatments to relieve suffering. Veterinary dermatologists rely on IDT to build customized treatment plans for patients called Allergen Specific Immuno Therapy or "ASIT" for short.
ASIT involves a series of injections specifically created for the allergic animal’s skin. These injections, of diluted allergens, are designed to make a pet less sensitive to their allergens over time. In most cases these injections must be continued for life to reduce symptoms, but they are highly effective. Seventy to 90 percent of pets experience a reduction in symptoms as a result of ASIT treatment. These treatments can be delivered even more easily via droplets under the tongue, perfect for pet owners who are squeamish about giving injections to their pet.
Dog is prepared for Intra Dermal Testing
This treatment is very new to the North American field of medicine (both human and veterinary) and underscores just how far innovation in veterinary medicine has come.
When it’s time to see the vet
Many pet owners are understandably concerned about taking their animals to the veterinarian because the cost (to say nothing of the fear some animals experience when going do the doctor) may outweigh any perceived reduction in suffering. To help pet owners know when it’s time to bring Fido to the doctor I’ve compiled my "Top Ten" list of dermatological symptoms that should never be ignored:
- Intense itching of the skin (head shaking, running the face into the carpet, furniture, etc.)
- Biting at the skin that creates red, raw crusting areas of the skin
- Multiple ear infections (head shaking, odor from ears, scratching at the ears with hind legs)
- Paw licking or chewing and frequent infections of the skin in the webbed skin of the paws
- Staining of the fur of the paws and nails on multiple feet
- Reoccurring skin infections in the groin, under the shoulders, perianal areas (on or under the tail)
- Greasy scaling skin and/or fur with odorous skin
- Hair loss, or thinning of the fur
- Dark pigmentation of the skin that is chronically infected
- Sudden depigmentation of skin
Allergies and other dermatological issues can be as frustrating for pet owners and their veterinarians as they can be for pets. I encourage any pet owner whose animal is experiencing any of these symptoms to consult with their veterinarian. To contact Angell's Dermatology service, please call 617-524-5643 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.