Ask the Vet: Pet Allergy Tips

| May 29, 2012

Dr. Lauren - Ask the Vet Dr. Lauren, a local veterinarian, answers user questions about pet health.

My 14 year old beagle has been constantly licking her feet and her front paws seem to be swollen some. We have not changed her food lately, but was wondering if it could be allergies. What can I do to make her more comfortable?
Submitted by Anonymous

Dealing with an itchy pet can be an extremely frustrating experience and can truly test the limits of the human-animal bond.  Persistent scratching and chewing by the pet can also result in self-excoriation and open wounds.  It is best to have your beagle evaluated by a veterinarian to determine if there are any underlying bacterial, fungal, or parasitic causes for her itching.  They can also prescribe medications that will help to stop the itch cycle your pet is experiencing.

The incidence of allergies is increasing in both humans and their pets.  People with allergies usually have “hay fever” (watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing) or asthma. Dogs more commonly experience the effects of allergic hypersensitivities as skin problems.  Though there are a variety of presentations, this can often be seen as redness and itching, recurring skin or ear infections, and hair loss.

Some pets develop specific hypersensitivities to components of their diets.  The allergen usually is a major protein or carbohydrate ingredient such as beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat, or soy.  The diagnosis of food allergy requires testing your pet by feeding special strict diets that contain only ingredients that she has never eaten before. This is often achieved by feeding a prescription diet for a period of 10 to 16 weeks.  If the signs resolve, a challenge is performed by feeding the former diet and watching for a return of the itching.  If this occurs, a diagnosis of food allergy is confirmed.

Another form of allergies is called atopic dermatitis. Atopy is the development of skin problems from exposure to variety of substances including the pollens of weeds, grasses and trees, as well as house dust mites and mold spores.  Diagnosis of atopic dermatitis is made based on the results of skin testing or blood testing.  Evaluating the results of these tests helps to compile a list of allergens for a “vaccine” to decrease the pet’s sensitivity.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for an allergy and it is usually a life-long problem. The goal is to control allergies and improve the quality of life for both you and your pet.  Your veterinarian will formulate the best program of management that suits those involved with your pet’s care.


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Dr. Lauren, a native of Knox, PA, practices in a busy animal hospital in Butler, PA. She received her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University in 2005 and her veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. Dr. Lauren treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits.

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Category: Ask the Vet