Skin Allergies in Pets

Pet Around Town: FINNEGAN!

Clearly, I can't get enough of my Golden Retriever patients. They are always so happy and sweet, and there's just something about them that cheers up my entire day! If you've ever met a Golden Retriever you must understand what I'm talking about.

A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to meet 9 year old Finnegan, who was having a VERY common issue this time of year - itchy skin. Poor Finnegan was bothered by an itch on his leg so badly that within just a day he had licked and chewed it into a very red, raw "hot spot". At the same time, we found that Finnegan had ear infections in both ears! Unfortunately, Finnegan was no stranger to these problems; they seem to happen around the same time every year.

Right at home, we were able to clip and clean the "hot spot". We prescribed antibiotics and topical medications for the skin and ears, and most importantly fit him with an e-collar to prevent him from continuing to chew at his skin (doesn't he make such a beautiful flower!?) Finnegan's mom reports that he is already well on the road to recovery! Now we're planning to take some steps to try to prevent this from happening again in the future.

Does your dog constantly lick his paws, scratch his sides, or have recurring ear infections? Does your cat constantly groom herself? If so, they too might be dealing with skin allergies.

Skin allergies are one of the most commonly seen medical issues in veterinary medicine. Luckily, there are plenty of options for diagnosing and treating this problem, and greatly improving your pet's quality of life. Let's briefly talk about a few causes and treatments for allergies.

Don't hesitate to contact us with any specific questions about itching or allergies! We'd love to meet your pet and talk about a personalized plan to stop the itch!

Three Causes for Skin Allergies in Pets

1. Flea Allergy:

This is the easiest type of allergy to diagnose and treat. If your pet is itchy and has fleas, getting rid of the fleas may solve the problem. Some pets can be so sensitive to fleas that even one flea bite (rather than an infestation) can cause an inflammatory reaction.

Therefore, it is imperative to have your pets on consistent flea prevention. Here in Texas, fleas don't take the winters off so flea prevention must be continued year-round. Even indoor pets can get fleas (yes, they can!) so every pet in the house should be on appropriate preventatives. If you aren't sure whether your pet has fleas, call us at 512-900-6639 so we can take a look!

So what brand of flea prevention is best? Generally I recommend avoiding most over-the-counter brands since most are at best, ineffective and at worst, toxic. Brands that can be obtained from a veterinarian are the safest and most effective. For cats, I currently like Revolution or Advantage Multi. For dogs, I like Bravecto (and think their commercial is hilarious!) or Nexgard. If you prefer a flea collar, avoid anything other than Seresto. Be sure to remember that pyrethrins (found in some topical dog flea products) are extremely toxic to cats, so always double check that you are administering them correctly! The effectiveness of flea preventatives can vary depending on your region of the country so be sure to consult with your veterinarian when choosing a product for your pet.

2. Food Allergies:

Some pets can have itchy skin as a reaction to the food they are eating. Get ready to have your mind blown by what I'm about to say: pets are rarely allergic to grains (corn, wheat, etc) in their diet, rather it is the proteins (chicken, beef, etc) which cause the inflammatory reaction. If your pet does better on a "grain-free" diet, that's great! There is nothing wrong with giving it a try at first. But based on the current evidence we have from research in veterinary nutrition and dermatology, when I recommend a hypoallergenic food trial for your pet I will be focusing on adjusting the type of protein that's present in the food, rather than worrying about the grains.

To officially diagnose a food allergy, a very strict diet trial must be performed using a prescription hypoallergenic diet. Over-the-counter diets are a bit cheaper, but they can be contaminated with other proteins by using the same equipment for manufacturing, while the prescription diets are unlikely to have this cross-contamination. During the diet trial, your pet must eat ONLY the prescribed diet for a full 8-12 weeks. No treats, human foods, or flavored medications can be allowed. If an improvement in the skin is noted during the diet trial, you can then reintroduce proteins one by one, to see which is the culprit. Knowing this can help guide future diet choices for your pet. Blood testing for food allergies has not yet been shown to be very accurate, so at this time I will continue to recommend a diet trial as the best way to diagnose a food allergy.

If you have any questions regarding the most appropriate diet for your pet - please get in touch!

3. Environmental Allergies (Atopy):

Pets and humans alike can be seriously affected by environmental allergens including pollens and molds. While we humans have watery eyes and congestion, our pets have itchy skin. Depending on which allergens your pet is sensitive to, the itching from atopy may be seasonal or year-round. When the itching is severe, it can lead to secondary infections which lead to worsened itch, and thus a vicious cycle of itch and infection emerges. There are some over-the-counter remedies that can help with itch, such as anti-histamines and fish oils, but many cases of atopy require some advanced diagnostics and treatments to truly manage the itch.

Have you met my cat Sammy? He's a scruffy little tabby who I adopted as a stray from the streets of Providence, Rhode Island (back in my internship, when I was a sucker for homeless animals! OK, you got me, I'm still a sucker...) Anyway, poor Sammy has had a long road with severe allergies so believe me, I understand your frustrations with your itchy pet! Once I exhausted my own ideas for treating his allergies, I readily sought help from the experts and brought Sammy to see a veterinary dermatologist. Did you know there are so many amazing vet specialists in the Austin area? I call them my brain trust, and love working with them to treat the more complicated cases.

Sammy - Allergic cat

At Sammy's dermatology appointment, we opted to test his skin to pinpoint his environmental allergies. Below are the results from Sammy's intradermal skin test. During this test, small amounts of each allergen are injected into the skin and the reaction is measured on a scale of 0 (no reaction) to 4 (severe reaction). Based on the results, an allergy serum was formulated and Sammy now gets routine allergy injections to help decrease his itch. Pretty cool, right?!

Sammy IDST.jpg

It's important to note that certain infectious diseases (such as ringworm, demodex, mites, and bacterial infections) can also cause pets to be very itchy so prior to driving down the allergy road, we should always rule out infectious causes.

I've always loved veterinary dermatology because even pets with severe skin disease can have a very happy ending! It might take a bit of time, trial, and error to get there, but in the end there is an excellent chance to see a huge improvement in comfort and quality of life! If your pet is itchy, take action before the problem gets worse. Schedule an appointment for evaluation and together we can work as team to start fighting the itch right away!

Call or text us at 512-900-6639, or email for more information!

Bonus tidbit: The medical term for "itch" is "pruritus".

Double bonus tidbit: It is never a good idea to Google (or especially to Google image search) any dermatology conditions. Just take my word for it. (It's not for a weak stomach!)