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Shona’s Story & Skin Allergies

Shona developed a nasty, inflamed rash on her abdomen and would not stop biting at her paws.

“Shona” was a four-year-old, daft, but loveable, Bearded Collie. She loved nothing more than rushing repeatedly through piles of rotting leaves in the Autumn months. However, every year her owners noted that she became intensely itchy, and she developed a nasty, inflamed rash on her abdomen and would not stop biting at her paws. She was brought into the surgery as the rash on her abdomen this year had become very painful and looked infected. Further ruling out of other causes of skin disease and testing revealed that “Shona” had atopic dermatitis

Dogs and cats can succumb to seasonal skin problems due to skin allergies due to "atopic dermatitis".  

Atopic dermatitis can be a debilitating skin condition triggered by an allergen sensitivity. There are an enormous number of potential allergens that a cat or dog can be exposed and allergic to, and each pet can be reactive to multiple allergens, so establishing the cause of the skin reaction can be extremely difficult. Skin allergies are one of the most common causes of itchy skin in dogs. 

Allergens surround us and our dogs all year round. With the summer at an end, and the weather cooling down many of you will be hoping that your pets will be finally getting that break from those spring and summer pollen allergens. As the weather cools, we see a break in the summer grass and flower pollen load, however, the tree and weed pollen count still stays high during the autumn months. As tree foliage, leaves and flowers begin to fall, and the autumn winds pick up, the tree, leaf and weed pollens start flying.  And as these tree pollens increase, so does the incidence of atopic dermatitis in our allergic pets. In the autumn months it is also suspected that many of these animals are allergic to leaf moulds. Mould spores are everywhere and at all times of the year. However, they reach their peak in the wet autumn weather. When the leaves fall from the trees in large numbers and then start to decompose, the number of leaf mould organisms multiply many folds, and these leaf moulds are a source of great sensitivity for our allergic pets. The mould spores are microscopic particles released into the atmosphere causing allergic symptoms.  

Symptoms tend to include itchy skin, inflamed skin, hair loss, and repeat skin and ear infections. Leaf mould allergies can also cause itchy, inflamed eyes and runny eyes and noses. Affected dogs and cats will constantly scratch themselves vigorously, and sometimes self-inflicted scratched skin lesions can then become infected and cause a secondary skin infection called a “pyoderma.”  Dogs often will exhibit signs of allergy with a rash and itching on the underside of their tummy, under their fore limbs, in their groin and on the inside of their thighs and on all their paws.  Occasionally, these rashes can extend to their neck, back, and head and ears as well. Cats, on the other hand can exhibit their allergy symptoms almost anywhere on their bodies. Affected dogs and cats will often scratch or lick incessantly and they can become very uncomfortable and miserable.  The self-trauma from this vigorous, constant scratching often can cause more problems than the initial allergy symptoms. 

Depending on the severity and frequency of the symptoms, these allergies can be treated symptomatically: Meaning that the allergic flare-ups, and secondary skin infections, can be treated with medications to settle down the itch and infection, along with regular bathing with a sensitive, medicated shampoo, topical skin products and with oral skin supplements containing Omega 3 fatty acids. Antihistamines, though not always effective in controlling all the allergic symptoms, may help a little. Anti-inflammatory medications may be required to reduce itching and skin inflammation, and antibiotic treatment may be required if the skin becomes infected. 

If your pet continues to succumb to recurrent seasonal skin allergies your Vet may advise on further allergy testing to provide more information on the specific allergens causing the problem, or in severe cases refer your pet on to a consultant Veterinary Dermatologist.  Rather than symptomatic treatments, a longer-term solution for chronic cases may be to build up a pet’s own immune system specifically against known allergens. This process requires intradermal skin tests and blood tests for specific allergy testing, then based on those results immunotherapy treatments are given to gradually desensitize the patient to these allergens. This is done via regular Immunotherapy injections to build up their immunity specifically to the agents that patient is sensitive to. 

Avoiding exposure to an allergen is always the best way to control an allergy, so, if possible, try to avoid your pet having any prolonged contact with rotting piles of leaves in the Autumn months. Also wipe your pet down well after walks in the woods with his own flannel and plain water and rinse off his paws and clean his eyes, ears, and muzzle to reduce and clean off the allergens on his skin. 

Shona’s allergies were clearly seasonal, and particularly noted in the Autumn months, so with careful management before and during this time her skin lesions were kept under control. She was given a course of treatment just before and throughout the autumn months to keep her allergies at bay, and she was still able to play in the woods. However, her owners did stop her from rushing through piles of rotting leaves, and she was bathed and wiped down carefully afterwards to keep her skin healthy and comfortable. 

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, 
Senior Consultant,
Crown Vets

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