Six “Easy” Things You Can Do to Help Your Pet with Allergies
Allergy Season is right around the corner (again) and with it will come the licking, chewing, biting and scratching that is the hallmark of allergies in our pets. We have already discussed some of the medications, allergy testing, allergy injections and other therapies available to treat your pet with allergies in a previous posting. For this post, we thought we could talk about some relatively “easy” things you can do at home to make it more comfortable for your pet to live with his/her allergies.
Let’s start by talking about Routine Bathing and Grooming Care. The goal here is three-fold. First we want to rinse off as many allergens as possible from the skin and hair coat. Next, we can replenish the hydration status and pH balance to the skin and hair coat resulting in a more comfortable and effective protective barrier. Finally, helping to control and prevent the secondary skin infections (bacterial and yeast) that our pets with allergies are prone to developing will go a long way to keeping your pet comfortable. Skin infections will significantly intensify any underlying itching/discomfort your pet is experiencing. It is important that you use a shampoo designed for dogs and cats dealing with allergies. Human shampoos (even the “gentle” baby shampoos) are a big no-no for our pets! The shampoo you choose should be moisturizing in nature (Aloe & Oatmeal Based are the best) and it should also be Anti-bacterial and Anti-yeast in nature. How you bathe your pet is just as important as what you use. The ideal goal is to bathe in lukewarm (not hot) water, allow lather to contact the skin for 10-15 minutes prior to rinsing, and thoroughly rinse away all residual shampoo. Depending on your pet’s skin condition and needs, bathing as frequently as once weekly is not uncommon. In some cases it may be helpful to follow-up this shampoo protocol with a Moisturizing Conditioner or one of many Leave-on Lotions to maximize the lasting benefits of your pet’s bath time. Topical Humectants as daily sprays may also aid your pet’s comfort. You can purchase one of the many commercially available products or you can use a popular “home remedy” of Avon Skin-So-Soft diluted in water. The formula is to dilute one part lotion into 10 parts water. If your pet is like most allergy patients and has an ear component to the allergy pattern, routine ear cleaning to keep the waxy debris and inflammation of the ear canals under control may be helpful. In this case you should use an ear cleansing solution specifically designed for dogs. Remember that because the dog’s ear canal is shaped like an “L”, many of the hydrogen peroxide based products used in people can actually make ear inflammation in or dogs and cats worse rather than better. A reasonable frequency of ear cleaning is once weekly to twice monthly (in a pet with allergies and/or history of ear infections). A good rule of thumb is that if you need to clean out your pet’s ears more than twice weekly to keep the debris under control, there is likely a secondary infection that will need specific treatment from your veterinarian. For pets with more aggressive ear conditions, specific medicated ear cleaners may be recommended by your veterinarian.
Our next helpful hint is what can be referred to as “The Wipe Down”. This consists of thoroughly wiping down your pet after returning from outdoors. Just get into a routine of keeping a towel by the door and before your pet comes back inside the house, wipe off the paws/feet very well (“like they stepped in mud”) followed by a quick wipe-down of the nose/face/body to strip away as many of the allergens as possible before they have a chance to be absorbed into the skin. It sounds like something “too simple” to be of any help, but the Dermatology and Allergy Specialists tell us this “ounce of prevention” truly is worth a “pound of cure”.
The next things you should be adding to your shopping list if you have a pet with allergies are Daily Fish Oil Supplements. These supplements have MANY benefits on many organ systems. For our allergy patients they play three important roles. First they will help to replenish hydration and pH balance to the skin and hair coat leading to a healthier, more comfortable protective barrier. A well hydrated skin layer will keep allergens out of the system better and we all know how itchy dry skin can be! Fish Oil supplements also actively work to block one of the inflammatory cascades within the skin (so they do have an anti-itch effect all on their own). As if that were not enough… they also work synergistically with Antihistamines. Basically this is a scientific way of saying that the fish oils actually boost the benefits of the antihistamine therapies, so they work much better than if they were administered without the fish oil supplements on board. There are no real dangers to using fish oil supplements.
The dose tolerated is usually limited by gassiness and/or diarrhea. But you willneed to be patient. It takes 6-8 weeks to build up in the system before ANY benefit should be expected.
We know it seems like we harp on this subject, but Practicing Good Flea Prevention is a very critical component of controlling your pet’s allergies. It is important to note that almost all dogs and cats that have skin allergies will show some signs of reaction to flea saliva. In fact, flea saliva is one of the most potent antigens to the dog/cat’s immune system. The itching and discomfort from allergies has an additive effect…so each and every step we can take to reduce any one of the factors will add up to a more and more comfortable pet. Preventing a flea infestation is much cheaper, easier and effective than treating a full blown infestation. In fact, once a flea population has developed in your home it will take at least 3-4 months of ongoing treatment before the problem is fully under control! The most effective route to flea prevention is a Multi-Modal Approach to Flea control utilizing both an effective Insect Growth Regulator (to address the immature flea stages of the eggs and larvae which make up 85% of the flea population) and an Adulticide (to kill adult fleas which make up only 5% of the flea population). The two best Insect Growth Regulator options available right now are: Lufenuron in Sentinel Monthly Flavor Tabs (now available again and even more affordable than ever) and Nylar (Pyriproxyfen) found in KnockOut ES House Treatment. At this time it appears that our best Adulticide options include: Spinosad in Trifexis/Comfortis monthly tablets, Fipronil in Parastar/Frontline topical preparations, Selamectin in Revolution (better for cats than dogs) and Nitenpyram in Capstar (which may be given as frequently as once daily if needed).
In our increasingly health care conscious society more and more discussion is occurring about food and it’s role in allergy control for our pets. Regardless of the source of your pet’s allergies, there are some Dietary Changes That Make Sense. If your pet is suffering from allergies you may want to discuss with your veterinarian that you would like to consider changing your pet’s diet to a “skin
friendly” food. Feeding a diet without beef, chicken or dairy products but with high levels of essential fatty acids can potentially help reduce any allergic reactions regardless of the cause. Limited ingredient (single protein) diets seem to be best. Recently there are many Fish based diets that have become commercially available that seem to work well for many allergy pets. It is important to note, however, that if a true Food Allergy is suspected in your pet, then feeding a strict Food Elimination Diet may be needed. This should only be performed under the supervision of your veterinarian and for a 3-4 month diagnostic period only.
Finally, it is very important for you to be Diligent with Follow-up Care With Your Veterinarian. Whether we are treating the symptoms of allergies with antihistamines, antibiotics, anti-yeast medications, steroids and topicals or trying to control the allergic reactions themselves with Allergy Injections, Atopica or Dietary Therapy – allergy treatments in pets is very much a “Trial-and-Error Process” and what may work very well for one pet may be completely ineffective in another. So, expect that regular exams, evaluations and communication with the Veterinary Health Care Team will be needed to develop an individualized treatment plan for your pet in order to help you and your pet cope with your life-long battle with Allergies!
Remember that treatment for allergies is life-long and relapses or flare-ups of the itching and/or infections are very common. Hopefully the combination of therapies provided by your veterinarian and these “easy” tips will help you and your pet to have the most comfortable allergy season ever!