Alison Laurie–Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness.
Dogs and cats can succumb to seasonal skin problems due to allergies called "atopic dermatitis". Atopic dermatitis is a debilitating skin condition triggered by allergy sensitivity. There are an enormous number of potential allergens that a cat or dog can be exposed and allergic to, so establishing the cause of the skin reaction can be very difficult. 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 stays high during the autumn months. As tree foliage, leaves and flowers begin to fall, and the autumn winds pick up, the leaf and weed pollens start flying. And as these pollens increase, so does the incidence of dermatitis in our allergic pets. In the autumn months it is suspected that many of these animals are actually allergic to leaf moulds. When the leaves fall from the trees in large numbers and start to decompose, the number of leaf mould organisms multiply many fold and these leaf moulds can be a source of sensitivity for our allergic pets.
Affected dogs and cats will scratch themselves vigorously and sometimes self-inflicted scratch lesions can 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 their paws. Occasionally, these rashes can extend to their backs and head 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 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, topical skin products and also with 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, like corticosteroids, may be required if the skin rashes become very inflamed. Antibiotics may be required if they become infected.
Alongside skin allergies your pets can also get itchy, inflamed, runny eyes also due to sensitivity to the autumn pollens.
If your pet continues to succumb to recurrent seasonal skin allergies your Vet may advise on further allergy testing, or refer your pet on to a 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 the offending allergens. This process requires allergy testing, then based on those results immunotherapy treatments are given to desensitize the patient to specific allergens. This is done via 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 prolonged contact with rotting piles of leaves in Autumn. Also wipe your pet down well after walks with his own flannel and plain water and rinse off his paws and clean his eyes, ears and muzzle to reduce the allergens on his skin.
Speak to us if your pet is constantly itchy, as it may be that medication is required to control the problem. Remember that a seasonal allergy is generally a recurrent problem each year.