Seasonal Allergies: A Pain In The Itch

by Brooke Lucas, DVM itchy

  Spring and summer bring the freshness of new growth in the world around us. Unfortunately, it can also bring the onset of seasonal allergies in humans and animals. The number one seasonal allergy affecting both dogs and horses is insects, followed by environmental allergens like pollen, molds, dust mites and animal dander.

Flea bite hypersensitivity is the top reason for dogs to be itchy. Fleas can be a year-round problem for pets that live indoors, but incidence increases in warm months. Signs observed are biting, chewing (corncob nibbling) and licking.

In horses the major offending insect is the biting midge (Culicoides spp), also known as “no-see-ums”. Areas targeted and most severely affected are belly, mane and base of tail. Other names for Culicoides hypersensitivity are “sweet itch” and summer eczema. Control involves keeping the insect from biting the animal.

For fleas, topical and oral products are very effective. For flying midges, a combination of fly spray, fly sheets and keeping horses off pasture at bug feeding times (dawn and dusk) are good strategies.

Environmental allergens such as those mentioned above can cause itching in both dogs and horses and very rarely in cats. Signs include itching, scratching, rubbing and licking. An estimated 3-15% of the canine population suffers from this condition, with terriers being over-represented. The problem usually progresses in severity over time, typically starting out as a seasonal problem, but progressing to year round occurrence in severe cases. Testing via blood or skin can determine what specific allergens are causing problems. This helps focus effort to avoid the problem allergens.

Medications are also a critical component of therapy. A series of allergy desensitization shots can be formulated for individual animals. The shot series takes several months to see results. Shorter acting solutions are steroids, antihistamines, and immunomodulators. A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids has shown to be helpful.

To add to the confusion, animals can be allergic to several things at once, such as fleas, molds and foods. Plus, the skin changes caused by allergies can look like several other diseases. If your dog, cat, horse or any other pet is itchy and beginning to have red and inflamed skin, give us a call, we’d love to help you get an appropriate treatment started so both you and your animals can get some relief.

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