"Pets & Allergies"
By Jean Sutherland

     When a pet scratches, bites or chews excessively, chances are it is suffering from an allergy. In some instances, a highly allergic pet may have several allergies simultaneously. Identifying the cause of the allergy requires teamwork between the pet owner and the veterinarian. The same teamwork is needed to control the allergy.
     Inhalant allergies result from breathing in substances such as pollen from trees, ragweed and other plants, house dust and mold. There seems to be a genetic predisposition to this allergy, but it can occur in any pet at any time of the year.
     Contact allergies are caused by a pet’s physical contact with an offending substance. Thin-coated or hairless areas are usually affected. Among the most common allergens are soaps, insecticides, wool nylon carpets, paint, wood preservatives, poison ivy, oak or grass. Some pets may be allergic to plastic feeding dishes. In the case of certain plants and/or geographic locations, inhalant or contact allergies may be seasonal.
     Identifying the offending substance is critical to controlling inhalant and contact allergies. If this is accomplished, every effort should be made to eliminate it from the pet’s environment. A veterinarian can recommend appropriate treatment for skin lesions and to help relieve itching.
     Although some pets develop allergies to food, this is rare. A food allergy results from an abnormal immune reaction to an ingredient found in a pet food. Food allergies usually appear as skin problems or gastrointestinal upsets. However, a variety of diseases have similar signs. Consequently other causes should be excluded before a pet’s diet is blamed or changed.
     Most affected pets have been fed the same food over a period of months or years. The allergy develops over time with exposure to the same ingredient, usually proteins. Changing from one pet food to another is not the answer because many of these diets contain similar ingredients.
     No food source is completely non-allergenic. The only foods that can be considered hypo-allergenic are those a pet has never before eaten. To be hypo-allergenic, a diet must contain proteins that have been broken sufficiently so that the immune system does not recognize them. If a food allergy is suspected, a veterinarian will probably recommend a special “elimination trial diet” in order to be certain that diet is the cause of the allergy and to identify the ingredient to which a pet is allergic.
     If a pet is on an “elimination trial diet” to isolate the offending ingredient, the owner and all family members are faced with the challenge of keeping the pet on its special diet. This means no rawhide chews, snacks, table scraps or letting it eat another animal’s food. Once the ingredient to which a pet is allergic is identified, an appropriate diet can be recommended. Again, the challenge is to keep a pet exclusively on the prescribed diet with nothing else offered.
     For any allergy, once a tentative diagnosis is made, treatment can be attempted. The goal of the treatment is to control the symptoms by avoiding the cause of the allergy. If avoidance is not possible, medications or a series of injections may be beneficial. Identifying an allergen can be a complex process requiring time and patience. The reward of successful treatment is providing a more comfortable life for the affected pet.
     Our snow-birds are finally starting to arrive. With them come some of the latest current paperbacks. It’s a time a lot of us wait for. Please remember to visit us at the market and look at all the latest books we have available. We are also in need of old towels, blankets and newspapers. Please don’t throw them out but give them to us to use at the shelter. Snow-birds! Would you like to foster a pet while you are here? Please visit us at the market and discuss fostering a pet. Usually our little ones only need to be fostered for a few weeks to get them back on a healthy tract.