ImPAWsible Allergies!

DVM Hospitals

    ImPAWsible Allergies!

                                                                         June 2014 

Volume IV

Adopt a Cat Month!


It’s adopt-a-shelter cat month! Many organizations nationwide have cat adoption events this month!  There are adoption events in NYC every weekend this month. So if you were considering a new pet, there is no time like the present to give a cat a home!

There are many kitties in need throughout the city, we encourage you to consider adopting from one of these organizations:

Show ’em that you care!
Each June brings us pet appreciation week.
This year that week is June 5-11.
So take a longer walk,
throw the ball extra hard,
nuzzle that purring cat
for just 5 minutes more,
and splurge on that extra treat.
We love our pets year round,
but this week, let’s make sure we show ’em a li’l extra affection because they deserve it!

Comedy Corner

From the desk of Doctor Alexis Holroyde:

Sneezing? Runny nose? Changing seasons can result in a flair up of allergies. Did you know that our dogs and cats can be affected by allergies too? While allergies are very common in our pets, sometimes they do not exhibit the classic signs that we would expect. Instead, dogs and cats can demonstrate licking, scratching, and itchiness as well as chronic intermittent vomiting and diarrhea.

What are allergies? Clinical signs of allergies are the result of an abnormal immune response to normal stimuli. What type of allergies does my dog or cat have? Allergies in our pets can be generally divided into three categories:

1) flea allergies, 2) food allergies, and 3) environmental allergies.

Flea allergy dermatitis has historically been the most common cause of itching, scratching, and the resultant skin infections. Not seeing fleas does not mean that they are not there! Even one flea bite can result in a severe allergic reaction! While fleas are not as common in New York City as in other areas, year-round flea prevention is still recommended in all animals exhibiting signs of allergies.

Food allergies can result in itching and scratching, and can also be the cause of intermittent gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and diarrhea). Dogs and cats are most typically allergic to the major protein (chicken or beef) and/or carbohydrate source (corn or wheat) common in over the counter pet foods. Your pet does not need to be on a new diet to develop allergies, but may become intolerant to a food that they have been on for years. The only way to diagnose a food allergy is by their response to a hypoallergenic diet. This diet is a prescription diet that is composed of either a hydrolyzed diet (components are broken down into molecules too small to be recognized by the immune system), or novel protein/carbohydrate diets composed of ingredients not typically found in over-the-counter pet foods (venison, rabbit, duck and potatoes, peas, etc.). This diet, and this diet only, needs to be fed for several weeks (>10) before we can assess your pet’s response.

Most of us are familiar with environmental allergies. Pollen, dust, mold, and other allergens in the environment can trigger severe itching, scratching, sneezing, etc. in our pets. Clinical signs can be seasonal or year round depending on what specific allergies your pet has. A diagnosis may be suspected based on your dogs history, but can only be confirmed by intradermal skin testing.

Unfortunately, most pets do not recover from allergies and can experience symptoms throughout their lives. Diagnosing the underlying allergy is helpful when tailoring a specific treatment for your pet as most pets’ allergies can be adequately controlled with changes to diet, frequent bathing, regular antihistamines, or other therapies.

Additional information on pet allergies can be found on our blog in a recent article by

Pets can have allergies too!

Note on Allergies from Dr. Kerry McLaughlin

What are allergies?
Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to substances that normally cause no reaction in the majority of individuals.

Allergies in people vs pets:
In people, the most common signs of allergies are hay fever (sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes). However, in pets, the most common presentation is itchy skin (although we do occasionally see hay fever-like signs, allergic bronchitis, and asthma in our pets).

Three are 3 main categories of allergies in pets. Each of these has a characteristic age of onset, distribution of skin irritation, and treatment.

1) Environmental (Atopy)
2) Food allergy
3) Flea allergy dermatitis

Environmental Allergies (Atopy):
Signs are usually seasonal but can be year-round depending on what your pet is allergic to. The most common age of onset is between 1-3 years of age, although age of onset can range from 6 months to 7 years. The most common pattern of skin irritation is in areas where the hair is sparse and the area stays moist: armpits, groins, ear canals, muzzle, around the eyes, around the anus, and the conjunctiva.lab

Allergy testing is used to identify specific allergens for the making of allergy vaccines. The procedure is very similar to what is done in people. For intradermal (skin) testing, a variety of different allergens are used including air-borne allergens (such as pollen, ragweed, etc), indoor allergens (such as dust mites, mold), and common insects. Patients are usually sedated for this procedure, a small amount of allergen is injected into the skin, and the response to the injection is monitored and graded. The allergens that produce the greatest response allergyare then used in the formulation of an allergy vaccine, which is customized for each patient. The vaccines are usually given 1-2 times weekly in the beginning of treatment and then the frequency of administration is decreased to once every few weeks. Allergy vaccines improve clinical signs for 50-80% of dogs, but response can take anywhere from 3-18 months!

Other treatments for environmental allergies include the use of antihistamines (such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, etc) and medications which suppress the immune system (such as Atopica (cyclosporine)).

Food allergies:
The component of pet food that pets are usually allergic to is the protein source. In dogs the most common proteins implicated are beef, dairy products, and wheat. In cats the most common culprits are beef, dairy products, and fish. The age of onset ranges from 3 months to 13 years (with a mean age of 2-4 years in dogs). As a general rule, think about food allergy in extremely young and older patients with non-seasonal itchiness! Be suspicious of food allergies in patients that have skin disease and are also having gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhea, vomiting, or flatulence.
What most owners find difficult to understand is that most patients will develop an allergy even after they have been eating the particular diet for months to years. The distribution of skin irritation is not incredibly different from seasonal allergies, although some patients will have worse issues in the ear canals and around the anus (“ears and rears”).

Food trials: This should be done with a prescription diet that contains either a novel protein (a protein that your pet has never been exposed to before such as kangaroo, venison, duck, etc) OR a hydrolyzed protein (protein that is broken down into such small particle sizes that it is not recognized by the immune system). It is very important that a prescription diet is used for the food trial, as they are the only diets that are guaranteed to contain ONLY the ingredients listed on the product information. The diet should be fed for a minimum of 8 weeks to determine whether or not it will improve the clinical signs. During this time period the pet can be fed ONLY the prescription diet with no outside treats or flavored medications (such as Heartgard chewables). If there is a positive response to the food trial, then the animal may be able to switch over to a cheaper over the counter diet.

Food allergy myths: (from

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD):
At one time this was the most common allergic skin disease in dogs and cats. However, with the advent of newer and improved flea preventative products we are seeing this type of allergy less commonly. The allergic reaction occurs in response to the saliva of the fleas, which is deposited into the wounded skin as the flea feeds.flea_jpg
There is no age, sex or breed predisposition with this type of allergy. The most common presentation is itchiness and a rash over the back end of the body (base of the tail, back of the hind legs, and groin areas).
Very importantly, findings fleas or flea dirt on your pet are not necessary for a diagnosis! An allergic animal can respond to even a single flea bite with a severe reaction. In addition, pets (especially cats) can be very successful in removing them by scratching or ingesting them and making it difficult to find fleas on exam.

Treatment of FAD involves treating the patient with a flea preventative (with a prescription product such as Frontline, Revolution, Vectra, Sentinel), treating any secondary bacterial infections, treating all housemates, and treating the home.

Finally, it is important to realize that some pets may be suffering from one, two, or all three of the forms of allergies discussed above! If your pet is showing any signs of itchy skin such as scratching, excessive licking, paw chewing, or head shaking we recommend you have him or her evaluated by a veterinarian!