Spring has definitely sprung and with it the gardens are looking like wonderful wedding confetti with blossom and catkins everywhere. However, we also have the eruption of tree and spring flower pollens and the problems they cause. I remember walking through London just as all the London plane trees had flowered and arriving at my destination unable to speak as my nose was streaming from the allergic reaction.
Cats and dogs suffer from allergies too and these are the most common cause of skin disease. The most frequent sign is itchiness technically known as pruritis and all skin allergies cause itchiness. The most recognisable itchy response is scratching but it also results in licked paws that turn brown with saliva; shaking the head and hair pulling.
Allergies sensitise the skin of the body and can cause other symptoms too, such as sores over the body and down the ears. (Remember, the lining of the ears is just an extension of the skin.) Excessive wax in the ears develops as the skin tries to protect itself from the irritant and this wax is dark brown, not the pale cream colour of normal ear wax.
It is important to treat the problem early on as allergies tend to worsen over time. Allergies are caused by a hypersensitisation of the immune system. The immune system protects the body from disease and swamps and kills many potentially lethal viruses and bacteria even before they have a chance to cause illness. It roots out damaged cells within the body and destroys them helping to refresh and renew the tissues that make up the body. It also rushes to the site of damage such as a bee sting, bringing healing cells that repair the area and return it to normal. This system is vast and is the subject of a lot of research, as its potential to fight disease is amazing and is just being understood.
In the case of allergies though, the immune system is over-reacting to attack and is mounting a prolonged and inappropriate defence. It takes time for this over-reaction to develop which is why allergies are rare in young animals but develop as they get older.
Diagnosing allergies takes time and there are three main causes – parasites, food and environmental. Initially, all allergic animals should be treated for parasites – not just fleas and ticks but mites and internal worms as well. If a food allergy is suspected the only way of diagnosing this is through a restrictive food trial and if after this the symptoms persist then environmental factors are involved.
It is critical to realise that allergies will not go away. No one treatment will cure the disorder and that treatment is lifelong. Regular parasitic treatments and a special diet may all that is needed but for animals with environmental allergies regular daily, monthly or regular injections are needed lifelong. However, the disease is manageable, and treatment can give your pet a long and comfortable life.