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Allergies and Apoquel- Memphis Area Pet Health

Posted 07.22.15 by Drew McWatters, DVM

We have discussed seasonal/environmental allergies before, but it turns out pets can suffer from other allergy types, too.

Allergies are one the most frustrating and challenging chronic medical conditions that pet owners deal with in their dogs. From the constant itching to the recurrent infections, it seems like the misery and the vet visits never end. Thankfully, with diligent care from dog owners and veterinarians, there is hope for your sanity and your wallet.

Like in people, allergies occur when a dog’s body has a hypersensitivity reaction to something. In our area, 80-95% of these “somethings” are environmental allergens such as grass pollen, tree pollen, dust, mold, and even dander from other dogs, cats and humans. Some of these allergens are seasonal but many, like dust, are present year round and many animals have different allergies in different seasons. Unlike in people, only some dogs get allergic conjunctivitis and allergic rhinitis (also known as “hay fever”) and most dogs get inflamed, red, itchy skin. Once the itch starts, the skin’s natural barrier is quickly broken down which opens the door to secondary infections with bacteria and yeast. These infections are also extremely itchy and thus the itch cycle continues.
dog scratching allergies

Because of these infections, it is important that your dog’s veterinarian regularly examine your dog to check for infections and check to make sure the skin has a healthy protective barrier. These infections are also the reason why an allergy medication may seem like it is not working. If you do not control the infection, you cannot control the itch.

Treatment for allergies is based on the severity and frequency of the flare ups. Dogs that flare up only a few times per year can probably just be treated for each flare up and do not need a maintenance therapy. However, dogs with frequent problems can benefit from daily antihistamine use. Common antihistamines used in dogs include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and fexofenadine (Allegra).  Some preparations of these drugs can be toxic to dogs so please do not ever give your dog any medication without speaking to your veterinarian first.

Dogs that cannot be controlled with antihistamines have several options. Like people, dogs can be tested for allergies and treated with immunotherapy (“allergy shots”). Immunotherapy is administered year round at intervals ranging from every week to every month. The effectiveness of immunotherapy is roughly 70% and for some animals it is the only way to control their allergies. Steroids are another option, but long term use can have serious side effects.

There is a new medication on the market called Apoquel that controls allergy symptoms just as well as steroids but without the side effects. Apoquel directly inhibits itching in the skin and does not substantially affect the other body tissues. This gives it an excellent safety profile while providing much needed relief for allergic dogs. Apoquel works so well that is has been in very short supply since being launched 15 months ago. However, the supply is starting to increase and we will be able to use it to help relieve the itching of our allergic dogs.

dog with allergies

It is important to note that dogs can have identical symptoms with allergies to food ingredients. Contrary to popular belief, food allergies make up only 5-20% of allergies and the most common allergens are beef and chicken proteins, not grains. If your veterinarian believes your dog has a food allergy they will put your dog on a food trial to gauge the response of your dog’s symptoms. Over the counter diets labeled as “hypoallergenic” or limited ingredient are almost never truly hypoallergenic and often contain ingredients that are not listed on the label. Before switching your dog’s food, please call your veterinarian to make an informed decision. While the proper diet is the best treatment for dogs with food allergies, Apoquel can also help relieve the itching of these dogs.

If your dog suffers from allergies, call The Pet Hospitals today to set up a skin evaluation so your dog can be on its way to an itch free life!

-Dr. Drew McWatters

The Pet Hospitals – Germantown

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