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Animals Can Also Get Allergies

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Just like humans, dogs, cats and horses can also get allergies.

Some will show symptoms of allergies only in the spring and summer because there are large amounts of pollen in the air, but most will show symptoms all year round because they also react to dust and mites indoors. Animals can also develop allergies to insect bites. Food allergy can occur alone or as part of a multi-allergy problem.

What is allergy?

An allergy is an excessive and negative reaction from the body’s immune system against substances (allergens) which are not harmful and which would not normally cause a reaction. These allergens can be house dust mites and storage mites, pollen, fungal spores, dander from animals, flea saliva, saliva from biting insects and feed proteins. The allergens lead to allergic reactions through contact with the skin, inhalation or absorption from the gastrointestinal tract.

Allergic animals produce too many antibodies of the IgE type. When these bind to the allergen, biochemical substances are released. In the skin, these lead to itching and in the respiratory tract to breathing problems.

Atopic allergy in dogs

15% of all dogs suffer from atopic allergy. It is a hereditary form of allergy that lasts a lifetime. Most often, dogs overreact to house dust mites, storage mites or various pollens. Atopy usually develops before the age of 3. Up to 35% of dogs with atopy also react to proteins in the feed. The most common symptoms are itching, licking and biting. Ear and skin infections with yeast or bacteria can occur and can worsen the itching. Allergy to flea bites occurs where fleas are found indoors (unusual in Norway).

Allergy in cats

Allergy to substances in the environment or in the feed can manifest itself in various ways: symmetrical hair loss due to
excessive licking, sores and nodules in the skin or on the upper lip, small papules and crusts especially on the back, overproduction of earwax or recurrent ear infections, respiratory problems and asthma . Where there are fleas indoors, the cat can develop an allergy to flea bites.

Allergy in horses

Allergy to insect bites is the most common form of allergy in horses. It leads to severe itching in the mane and tail region and sometimes also under the abdomen. Allergy to ingredients in the feed or substances in the environment occurs. This can lead to itching, hives (urticaria) or respiratory problems (asthma).

How is atopy diagnosed?

The vet will carefully review the patient’s medical history and examine the animal thoroughly. Parasites and infections must be ruled out. Food allergy is investigated using an elimination diet. The vet rules out other diseases before he/she confirms the diagnosis of atopy using a blood test. As a rule, a screening test is first performed, and then the allergens are determined in more detail with an extended test panel (ALLERCEPT technology).

Age of the animal and time of testing 

You can test from eight months of age, but 12 months is preferable. With earlier testing, a significantly larger number of negative tests is seen. If the test is negative, the test should be repeated after six months. Upwards there is no restriction. Most dogs have antibodies by age 2. If a pollen reaction is suspected: it takes around 4-6 weeks after first contact with pollen before antibodies can be detected in the serum. In animals with a clear worsening of symptoms in summer, testing is recommended at the very end of the season (August/September).

How do you treat allergies?

It is best to avoid contact with the substances that lead to an allergic reaction. Some allergens are impossible to avoid. Cortisone preparations are often given for short-term relief of the itch, but long-term use can cause serious side effects.

Immunotherapy is the best long-term treatment. Immunotherapy is an individual extract based on the ALLERCEPT test. It is available as syringes or as daily drops. Other effective additional treatment is a daily supplement of Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) and external treatment with shampoo, spray, gel or wet wipes. Cyclosporine may be an alternative to cortisone. Your vet will discuss the alternative forms of treatment with you.

How successful is the treatment of allergies?

Many forms of allergy must be treated throughout life. Fortunately, there are now very good products so that you can successfully control the allergy in most animals.

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