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Looking Skin Deep

May 15, 2020 at 4:00 a.m.

Itch, itch, scratch, scratch, thump, thump, thump. Sound familiar? Then you must have a dog or cat who suffers from allergies. Allergies can manifest as itchy red skin, sores, ear infections, gastro-intestinal issues, and some other symptoms that may not be polite to mention here. No matter how it appears, it's a problem! We know from our own allergy symptoms that our itchy, sneezy, red-skinned pets must be uncomfortable. Many things go through our minds: Should I take her to the vet? Is it contagious? What if there's more going on than an allergy? What is he allergic to? Hopefully, this article will help to prepare for your pet's allergy exam and treatment.

When a dog or cat is brought to me for help with allergy symptoms, the first thing we do is take a good history--we ask a lot of questions about their environment, their diet, their symptoms, the frequency of the problem, etc. The answers to these questions tell us about possible causes, most effective treatment options, further testing that may be needed, and more. So, my first piece of advice is to send someone with the pet who is very familiar with the animal and the symptoms. When the answer to the above questions is, "I'm not sure, my spouse handles that," then we are limited in how we can help. In that case, we may have to use broader therapies and work our way down to what's actually needed to maintain your pet's comfort with their allergy. So, a good, detailed history can save time in finding an effective treatment, and save money in that we may be able to eliminate some possibilities without further testing.

Your vet will need to know what medications have been tried in the past, what has worked and what has not. If your pet felt any relief at all while taking a particular medication, then that medication worked. Allergies are not cured, they are managed. Regardless of the medication, you have used, when the medicine is finished, the symptoms will return. So, if antibiotic or antihistamine or steroid made your pet better, then it worked, even if the symptoms came right back after treatment. Bring any records you might have from another veterinary office, and any medications prescribed to this animal in the past. Write down brands and flavors of food, treats, chews, and anything else that goes into your pet's mouth. You cannot bring too much information with you.

After collecting your pet's history, a veterinarian will examine your pet. We look for rashes, bumps, hair loss, external parasites, and whether the lesions are focal or affecting the whole body. Based on the history and the physical exam, the doctor may recommend testing as the next step. You may hear them suggest a skin scrape, cytology, or culture. These tests check for skin mites (mange), bacterial or yeast infection, and ringworm. Blood work may be recommended. This helps eliminate certain internal diseases that can show up on the outside as skin disease.

You see, the rash, the bumps, the itch; those are not the problem. They are symptoms of the problem. Let me say that again; the itch is not the problem; it is a symptom of the problem. Your vet will be working as an investigator, ruling out all the reasons your pet has skin disease until finally they can name the cause and give you the best options for maintaining your pet. Here's another important sentence; we cannot cure an allergy, but we can help your pet live comfortably with it.

The treatment most effective for your pet will very much depend on the answers to history questions, exam findings, and lab results. While steroid and similar medications will help your pet to temporarily feel better, it is not safe to continue steroid treatment long term. Doing so puts an animal at risk for Diabetes, Cushings syndrome, weakened immune system, obesity, and other serious health problems. Steroid can be a great tool to rescue painful, severely inflamed skin, but it should not be used as a "band-aid" treatment or given on a regular basis for allergy. There are more modern, more effective, safer options for treating allergy.

What I would like you to know about your pet's allergy is that it is complicated. However, with your commitment, we can find safe and effective treatment options so that he/she can be comfortable and happy. That's always the goal!

Go Magazine on 05/15/2020

Print Headline: Looking Skin Deep


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