Updated: Jul 2
Skin disease caused by allergies are frustrating for owners (as well as their pets!) because there is no single fix-it cure, however with increased owner awareness and knowledge, flare ups can be managed and minimised.
Skin can respond to allergens presenting as inflammation, increased production in sebum (oil) and/or itching. Through these changes, secondary infections can occur as opportunist bacteria and yeasts move into broken skin barriers and begin feeding off the excess production of oil and dead skin. This boom in a bacteria/yeast population will present itself as a skin infection or lesion.
Symptoms generally first noticed by owners are:
1. Excessive licking, itching, or head shaking if the ears are involved
2. Odour (ears or generalized)
3. Discharge or inflammation in one or both ears
4. Inflamed, bleeding, or copper-stained paws
5. Alopecia (loss of hair)
6. Circular crusting lesions
7. Red pimples
8. Oily or greasy skin
9. Thickened, leathery skin
10. Scaly or red skin
If your pet is showing any of the above symptoms it is best to confirm the cause as skin issues may arise from parasites (mosquitoes included), fungal disease, environmental allergens (airbourne/contact), food allergies or in some cases adrenal or auto-immune abnormalities. Hives may form in cases of an acute contact allergy and those which cause respiratory distress must be seen immediately, as this is likely a severe allergic response.
In most cases we may need to do a skin scraping to check for mites or fungal conditions and confirm if bacterial and/or yeast populations are responsible for the inflamed or infected skin. The evidence collected will determine the best course of treatment. Discussion about the frequency of flare-ups is essential in determining if the allergy is environmental as opposed to a food-based allergy.
Intradermal allergy testing may be performed in cases which are difficult to manage to try to identify the offending allergen. This can be arranged through Dermatology for Animals - a local North Brisbane specialist veterinary dermatology practice. A variety of common allergens are tested with intradermal injection. Positive results could indicate the need for a vaccine to help to desensitise your pet. Such vaccines have success in about 75% of cases.
Less commonly we may find auto-immune and adrenal abnormalities to be the underlying cause. These possibilities will be considered in your consultation.
In most cases of skin allergy there is no single treatment that will completely solve it all. Understanding that the allergies may be seasonal, and that there may be some steps to take which might help to lessen further complications. For example, using Epi Otic to dissolve ear wax to lessen the chances of yeast infection in ears. We may use a combination of treatments or suggest food changes (increased omega fatty acids, vitamin E and C to assist to protecting the skin barrier). Unfortunately like humans, results will vary among individuals. Our aim is to get your pet comfortable and itch-free as quickly as possible.
Treatment is dependent on the allergen which is causing the issue and the severity of the skin reaction. Your pet may be prescribed a topical treatment such as a medicated shampoo/conditioner(product will vary based on the type of infection/cause), prescription antibiotic/local anaesthetic cream or paraciticides for flea/mite/tick control.
At The Ark we try to minimise use of oral antibiotics unless skin is severely infected and treatment with topical treatment alone is not viable. This is to reduce antibiotic resistance within the population.
In cases of extreme irritation we may prescribe an inexpensive corticosteroid, a potent anti-inflammatory that works at suppressing the immune system responsible for the flare up. Used as prescribed to reduce any side effects, these preparations are very cost-effective. A new product APOQUEL has been released which acts similarly to corticosteroid treatment. These options can be discussed within a consultation and the best treatment for your individual pet's needs.
An injection of anti-histamine may be warranted in acute contact allergies, which may present as hives. However, anti histamines have variable effects in animals and are not commonly used as a sole treatment for allergies.
Food elimination trials will be considered if your pet's condition is thought to have a food allergen involved, and not showing seasonal fluctuations or improvement. This would involve feeding Royal Canin Hypoallergenic/Anallergenic or Hill's Prescription z/d Diet in a strict eight week diet plan. These diets contain hydrolysed proteins - proteins that have been broken down into smaller molecules - and are specifically designed so your pet's body will not recognise the offending allergen thereby eliminating the associated inflammatory response normal proteins may cause.