It’s that time of year again, the dreaded CHANGE OF SEASON… That itchy, scratchy time when fur kids are pulling their hair out and so are us pet-parents. Allergies are one of the most frustrating problems that your pet can face and there is no simple solution.
Why is my pet itching & scratching?
It’s your pet’s immune system that’s overreacting to something, whether it’s in the environment or the food, we can’t just remove your pet’s immune system.
So before you get excited, let me be honest with you – there’s no quick fix. Although some allergies seem to wax and wane, particularly with the seasons - most of the time this is a lifelong problem.
The good news is that it’s not hopeless and here’s what we need to do:
- Try to eliminate the most common causes of allergies
- Try to figure out what your pet is specifically allergic to and eliminate that, if possible
- Support your pet’s skin to heal and maintain its protective barrier
- Work together with your vet to make sure your pet is as comfortable and healthy as possible
Different things work for different dogs and the degree of the itch can vary, so we have put together a step by step plan that you can use to tackle this tricky time of year…
Step 1- Flea treatment/prevention
The most common allergen or trigger is flea saliva. Even one bite from a flea can trigger a massive systemic reaction in a dog who is sensitive to this. Every animal in the house needs to have tick and flea treatment. I recommend a strict monthly topspot for cats like Revolution or Frontline and for dogs I recommend monthly Nexguard or Bravecto every 3 months. You can also give dogs a topspot but remember no bathing, swimming or getting wet at all for 48 hours before and after the treatment.
But don’t stop there. You MUST treat the environment with something like Ultrum spray at the same time as you treat the animals. Make sure that bedding, carpets, under couches and beds and pretty much anywhere where they spend their time has been sprayed. Oftentimes, we treat the animal with a highly effective flea treatment but they just jump off and live in the environment until such time that the effect has worn off. So knock them dead with dual treatment and you should get that under control.
Step 2- Try to figure out any patterns or triggers
Think back to times your pet has flared up. Is it every Summer? Or every time you go to a specific park? Perhaps it’s when you visit your parents.
Keep an “itch diary” where you make notes of where you go, what time of year it is, what your pet eats and so on. Chat to everyone in your family to get their input, and once you have an idea of what the problem is, try to avoid that as much as possible. Find a new park, ask the parents to rather come to your house or stop giving those specific treats.
If your pet flares up after bathing, this could also be a trigger, so use a pH neutral shampoo like Physiological Shampoo, and only bath your dog when it is absolutely necessary.
Again, the key to avoiding flare ups is avoiding the triggers.
The other option is allergy testing. Many labs offer panels for allergy testing in dogs and cats which can give you a great idea of what to avoid. They can detect different environmental allergies from ants or moths to moulds or grasses, and this can help you in knowing what to avoid. Ask your vet for more information on this but please note that allergy tests only work for environmental allergies, they can’t detect food allergies.
On that note, pure food allergies are actually less common than you would think. Only 10% of allergies are to food and of those, only 10% are to grains, so start by looking at the environment when you are looking for the culprit.
Your vet can advise you on how to do a food elimination trial with a novel or hydrolysed diet to rule out and/or confirm food allergies.
Step 3 - support your pet’s system
There are many ways to do this and as the old saying goes “you are what you eat”, so let’s start there.
By putting your pet onto a skin support diet, you can ensure that they have enough omega fatty acids to support their immune system, help their skin heal and control inflammation on a cellular level. A diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids from fish like Eukanuba Sensitive Skin for dogs is a great place to start. There are other diets which contain omega 3 fatty acids with combinations of vitamins that prevent water loss through the skin and maintain the skin’s barrier like Royal Canin Sensitivity Control for dogs and cats.
Medicated shampoos like Allermyl support the coat from the outside in but remember these types of shampoos are treatments and aren’t necessarily good for washing dirt off dogs. So if your Retriever was top-to tail deep in mud at the park, first give him a wash with a mild foaming shampoo and then treat his sensitive skin with something like Allermyl.
Never forget the ears! We know that almost all ear infections are actually due to underlying allergies. To manage and avoid severe external ear infections you can wash your dog’s ears daily or at least twice a week with an ear cleaner like Epiotic. This ear cleaner actually changes the pH in the ear and helps prevent yeast and bacteria from growing and infecting the compromised skin.
Step 4 - Work with your vet and nip flare-ups in the bud
If your pet’s skin always flares up at a certain time of year or when you go to the coast, be aware of this and go to the vet as the flare-up starts. If you know your pet is an allergy-sufferer and you can see the redness and itching is starting, go to the vet right away to get a short course of cortisone or a cortisone spray to get it under control before infection sets in and makes everything worse.
Allergies cause the skin’s barrier to become compromised and even normal bacteria living on the skin can cause an infection if the skin is compromised. If you wait until this point where the skin and ears are smelling, bleeding and painful then your vet will prescribe much stronger medication for longer periods of time to get it under control. These cases can be very complicated so keep your vet in the loop and ask for advice so that you can work together to keep your pet as comfortable as possible with as few side-effects from medication as possible.
Change your approach to the change of season…
These steps are a starting point for you to minimise your pet’s discomfort (and minimise the stress of a trip to the vet) as much as possible but every case is different. We need to do our best to manage their allergies and keep them as happy and healthy as possible.