The doctors at First City Veterinary Hospital understand how frustrating skin conditions can be for patients and owners alike.  We have a variety of diagnostic tools and medications that can provide relief from the constant itching and skin irritation. If your pet is plagued with skin issues, one of our veterinarians can assess his or her specific condition and provide an individualized treatment plan.  Adrian Miller, BVMS, has provided a concise summary of typical conditions that we see here in our hospital.  If after reading you have any further questions or believe your pet would benefit from a consultation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. 

Let’s Talk About Canine and Feline Allergic Dermatitis / Otitis

Allergic dermatitis in cats and dogs is often a frustrating and difficult disease to manage successfully. The most frustrating part is that the initial treatment may not always yield immediate results, and treatment usually requires frequent rechecks and diagnostic procedures. There are several reasons why this might be the case, but a better understanding of the underlying disease can help us manage the symptoms more successfully.

Most cases of allergic dermatitis go unnoticed until we start to develop secondary skin and/or ear infections. These infections can be either bacterial or fungal in nature, and it is important to treat these infections but to also investigate the underlying allergy. Chronic, reoccurring ear infections, for example, are rarely a primary disease and are more often a secondary infection due to uncontrolled atopic dermatitis and/or food allergy.

There are four main causes of allergic dermatitis in our pets, and your pets can have any one of these by itself or in any combination.

Clinical signs: Hair loss, itchiness, red spots and/or scabs especially

Distribution: Around base of tail, lower back, inner thighs, and neck

Atopic dermatitis is an environmental allergy that is usually caused by plant pollen and can be either seasonal or year-round. It is the 2nd most common cause of allergies in dogs after fleas and 3rd most common cause in cats after fleas and food. Symptoms are often indistinguishable from a food allergy but are typically worse during a particular season of the year when the pollens are more common.

Clinical signs: Redness, hair loss, spots of darkly pigmented skin

Distribution: Face, particularly around the eyes, ears, belly, between the front and back legs, and the feet

Food allergies are a less common cause of allergic dermatitis. As one would expect, food allergies tend to be a non-seasonal if your pet is eating the same food all year long. A common misconception many people have is that they can rule out a food allergy by switching their pet onto a grain-free diet. Although a grain allergy is still possible it is extremely rare. In the vast majority of cases it is the meat protein that causes the allergy, so a grain-free diet is not necessarily going to solve the problem.

To rule out a food allergy, we recommend running a 4 to 12-week feeding trial (depending on the food choice) with a novel protein and carbohydrate, or a hypoallergenic/hydrolyzed protein prescription diet. During these feeding trials, we have to be very strict with our pets and ensure they are not getting unapproved treats, table scraps, or anything else that might interfere with the feeding trial.

Clinical signs: Redness, hair loss, spots of darkly pigmented skin. Distribution is often indistinguishable from atopic dermatitis, except for when we have the presence of gastrointestinal signs (i.e., vomiting, diarrhea, scooting (anal glands), increased bowel movements, and straining to defecate)

Distribution: Face, particularly around the eyes, ears, belly, between the front and back legs, and the feet

Contact dermatitis is another uncommon cause of allergic dermatitis, caused by various substances (plants/grasses, topical medications, chemicals, home furnishings, and foods) coming into direct contact with your pet leading to irritation and inflammation to the skin.

Clinical signs: Redness or red spots

Distribution: Typically confined to hairless or sparsely haired portions of the skin

Flea allergy dermatitis tends to be a more seasonal allergy, but with our mild Pacific Northwest climate and our nice warm homes full of hosts, fleas can be around all year long. It doesn’t take a flea infestation to cause a flea allergy, and It is not uncommon for the fleas go unnoticed by the owner. This is primarily due to the fact that 95% of fleas live in the environment as eggs, larvae, and pupae, and only 5% are the adult fleas that live on the dog/cat. An effective flea preventative for ALL family cats/dogs for a minimum of 3 months is of paramount importance to manage the flea population. Whether you see fleas on your pet or not, if it has allergic dermatitis and is not on an effective flea preventative, it is extremely important to rule this out as a possibility.

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