Thursday, July 12, 2012
Pet Smarts: Atopy in pets is nothing to sneeze at, requires commitment to proper treatment
By Dr. Sachiko Miyakawa
Sheabel Pet Care Center
Atopy is a hereditary disorder that causes an allergic response to environmental allergens. In humans, such an allergic response can cause a runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes. However, airborne allergens can cause different clinical signs in dogs and cats.
Typically, instead of a runny nose and itchy eyes, dogs and cats have pruritus (or itchy skin) where they chew, lick, scratch and rub their bodies on the floor. This leads to saliva stains on their paws, acute moist dermatitis (“hot spots”), hair loss, erythema (redness of the skin) and odor due to secondary bacterial and yeast infections. Just as in people, it is important to treat allergies in pets to help relieve the clinical signs.
What causes atopy?
Atopy can be caused by many allergens, including pollen, cat dander, dust mites, grass, mold and weeds. These allergen particles are inhaled, but also come into contact with the skin, which leads to itchy skin. Dog breeds predisposed to develop atopy include: boxer, cairn terrier, golden retriever, labrador retriever, pug, West Highland white terrier, shar Pei and shih tzu. However, any dog can develop this disease. It is also seen in some cats.
How is atopy diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will first get a good history and do a thorough physical examination. Atopy is typically seasonal, begins early in a pet’s life (1 to 3 years of age), and responds rapidly with corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory medication such as prednisone).
Areas of the body that are usually affected are: around the eyes/mouth, armpits, legs, abdomen and around the rear end. There are many other things that cause itchy skin, including flea bites, food allergies and skin mites, so these causes will need to be ruled out. A positive intradermal skin test will help confirm the diagnosis of atopy and to help develop allergy shots specifically for that pet. There are blood tests to check antibody levels that can also be helpful in developing allergy shots.
How is atopy treated?
For mild seasonal cases of atopy, medications consisting of antihistamines (such as Benadryl), corticosteroids, omega 3 fatty acid supplements and topical antipruritic therapy can keep your pet comfortable. In cases of nonseasonal atopy or severe atopy, your veterinarian may recommend allergy shots or a medication to lessen your pet’s immune response to allergens. Bathing your pet regularly will also help remove allergens from the fur and reduce the allergen exposure.
In atopy cases, the goal is to keep the pet as comfortable as possible. This may mean that the pet has occasional flare-ups and still has itchy skin, but to a lesser degree. Treating pets with atopy is a lifelong commitment and requires pet owners to be diligent in noticing early signs of allergies before it gets out of control.
Dr. Sachiko Miyakawa is a veterinarian at Sheabel Pet Care Center in Lexington. She graduated from University of Kentucky in 2004 and continued on to Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. For more information, visit sheabelpets.com.