Fleas, Seasonal Allergies, or Food Allergies?

Environmental allergies (atopy), flea allergies, and food allergies can wreak havoc on your dog or cat’s skin. The most common sign of an allergy is itching. When dogs and cats have an allergy, they will constantly scratch, chew, and lick their skin and paws. You may also notice some visible changes in their coat or skin. Chronic allergies can be miserable for pets and their parents.

There is a vast difference between the three types of allergies, so it is best to seek advice from your veterinarian for a plan of action. Based on what they find on exam and history, they may suggest a customized treatment plan, high quality flea prevention, or even potentially either an elimination diet or testing for environmental allergies. It is important to note that what works for one animal may not work for another. It may take time to figure out what triggers your animal’s allergies and how best to treat them. With help from your vet, you will be able to figure out what causes your pet’s allergies and how to prevent them.

Types of Allergies 

Flea allergy

It’s estimated that about 40% of all dogs are hypersensitive to flea bites. Sensitivity to flea saliva is a prevalent condition in dogs and cats. The flea will bite the animal, but the saliva injection (not the bite) causes most of the itching. The saliva of just one or two fleas can make your dog miserably itchy and uncomfortable for potentially months (even long after the fleas are gone).

In dogs and cats, a flea allergy/issue will have a very characteristic appearance. The nice thing is that because the appearance is so specific, it’s a very easy diagnosis. They will be very itchy from the middle of their back to their tail and there is often a noticeable amount of hair missing. In cats, owners are usually reluctant to agree with a flea possibility because 1) they never see any fleas on them and 2) they are inside only. Often, even for the doctor, it is hard to find fleas on a cat because they are so good at grooming that they eat all of the fleas. If they have that characteristic coat appearance, you can guarantee they have a flea issue. Cats may also develop a bad rash on their nose. Owners will also believe it’s not a possibility because they have their pet on flea prevention but there is a huge difference between flea prevention you can get from the store and what you can get from the vet.

Atopic Dermatitis

This is comparable to hay fever in humans, except your dog will itch instead of having a runny nose and sneezing (although they may deal with a little of that, as well). A large percentage of all dogs have atopic dermatitis (also known as seasonal or environmental allergies), especially in southeastern Louisiana. Atopic dermatitis can be caused by grass, pollen, ragweed, trees, weeds, mold spores, dust, and dust mite droppings.

Dogs may be exposed to these allergens by breathing them in or exposure through the skin. The most common sites that atopic dogs develop clinical signs are on are the feet (licking or chewing), the face – which they will rub against carpet or furniture, and the tummy, groin, and “armpit” areas.

Diagnosing atopy tends to involve trial and error, so the more information you provide to your veterinarian, the sooner you can solve the problem. Depending on the specific issues your dog has, a treatment plan will be put in place and may involve a combination of medications. Your dog may be dealing with a secondary bacterial or yeast infection (or both), which is a secondary issue to a compromised immune system with severe itchiness. Just keep in mind, atopy is not a disease that will ever go away – it will be something that your dog will deal with lifelong.

Food Allergies

Did you know that food allergies account for about 10% of allergies in pets? Owners are often fooled into buying a particular brand of food because it’s grain-free or the person at the feedstore recommended it. In reality, protein is the main food allergy culprit, usually chicken or beef. This may be surprising to you since most dog owners think their dogs are the ultimate carnivores.  Dogs may also be allergic to carbohydrates, preservatives, or food dyes.

Clinical signs of a food allergy are highly variable. Nearly half of the dogs who suffer from food allergies also exhibit other hypersensitivities, making the food allergy diagnosis difficult. The skin, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, central nervous system, or any combination of these may be affected. When the skin is involved, there is a generalized itchiness all over the body, specifically, the rear end will be very irritated. They may also deal with digestive issues, not just skin.

Food hypersensitivity can begin at any age, even late in the dog’s life. So, there are many reasons your dog would be licking or scratching themselves. Food allergy diagnosis is only done when atopy has been ruled out and the only way to do it is through what’s called a food trial. A food trial is feeding your pet a PRESCRIPTION food allergy diet for a minimum of 8 weeks.

Overlapping Symptoms

Since so many symptoms overlap regarding allergies, it is best to check with your veterinarian instead of assuming which one (i.e., stay off of Google!).

Environmental and food allergies may present similar symptoms, including:

  • Itchy, flaky skin
  • Ear infections and/or stinky ears
  • Hair loss or bald patches
  • Excessive licking and biting of the paws
  • Face rubbing
  • Sneezing
  • Scratching
  • Eye discharge
  • Respiratory problems
  • Hives

If your vet has done everything to rule out atopy or food allergy, they then may suggest you bring your pet to a dermatologist. The extra testing that they will do is what’s called an intradermal skin test. They will inject about 20 different small areas on your dog’s skin, each including a different allergen. Depending on what spots swell (indication a reaction to that allergen), the dermatologist will formulate a customized allergy medication specifically for your dog. Also, while some vets recommend it, bloodwork for allergies is not reliable.

What You Can Do

Keeping your animal on vet-recommended flea preventative is the first step (only if we’re sure fleas are the issue).

You should only be changing your dog’s diet to rule out food allergies under your veterinarian’s supervision. Randomly changing your dog’s diet can do more harm than good, and a proper “hypoallergenic” diet should be obtained from your veterinarian. Over-the-counter diets that claim to be ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘novel protein’ do not have the same quality control as veterinary prescription diets due to manufacturing cross-contamination.

It is also important to note that allergies are not the only reason that dogs itch. Itching may be caused by other factors such as a drug reaction, or a disease like pancreatic, liver, or renal disease. This is why it is essential to visit your veterinarian. That way, you can rule out any underlying conditions before you solve your pet’s allergic reactions.

Gifts for Pets – for the Holidays and Beyond

Pets are definitely on Santa’s list regarding gift-giving during the holidays. According to Chewy:

  • 94 percent of all pet parents will be shopping for their pets this year
  • 87 percent plan on having a holiday stocking for furry friends
  • 58 percent will be wrapping all their pets’ presents to add excitement
  • 54 percent will be dressing up their pets over the holidays

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) agrees, and its survey reveals that 73 percent of dog owners and 62 percent of cat owners purchase gifts for their pets.

Holidays and Beyond Pet Fashion

Of course, bandanas, bows, and bowties are always fun, but if you are really in the holiday spirit, you and your dog can show off your matching wardrobe. Spark Paws and ShopDogThreads sell matching hoodies or T-shirts and scarves. Etsy also has a wide variety of fun apparel for pets, including ways to put your dog or cat’s face on everything from socks to beach towels.

You can also spice up your pets’ walking attire with West Paw’s new Holiday Collars and Leashes line. Safe, durable, and comfortable, both collar and leash come in three festive prints. The webbing is made from recycled plastic bottles making both products eco-friendly.

Give the gift of health! 

One of our favorites for dogs is the new Whistle GPS and health tracker. Whistle smart devices translate millions of data points about your dog’s daily behavior into in-depth health and activity insights.

Serve up some holiday treats. 

Pet owners can gift gourmet Gingerbread Dog Treats by Lord Jameson this holiday season. Inspired by a family recipe, these natural treats are made with a tasteful combination of plant-based superfoods, including organic ginger, gluten-free oats, and roasted peanut butter. Santa Paws Treats from Claudia’s Canine Bakery are hand-made with human-grade ingredients and look so good they’ll give the human versions some festive competition. Every package includes 50 cookies, enough to share with pets and their pals.

Cats can get in on the action by enjoying holiday cat treats that taste like a holiday meal. And there are also seasonal treats for rodents, like apple and cinnamon treats.

Let’s not forget the toys!

Being good all year can be “ruff,” so rewarding pets with the Merry Woofmas Plush Toy Collection by Pet Lifestyles and Play is the ultimate gift. The set includes five cheerful toys in the shape of a hangable stocking, a tasty plate of cookies, ornament filled Christmas tree, a tug-able elf, and a silly Santa, and it makes an excellent gift for households with more than one pet.

For cats, The Merry Medley Cat Toy Bundle from SmartyKat is the purrfect toy pack with 16 catnip-filled toys to give cats the stimulation they need and crave.

Rabbits and other furry friends can celebrate the season with willow balls. And if your lizard doesn’t have one already, it’s time for a Penn-Plax lizard lounger.

Make your holidays pet-proof. 

While the holidays can be lots of fun, the way to show love for your furry friends is to ensure your home is safe for them.

Here are three ways to cat-proof your Christmas tree:

  1. Anchor your Christmas Tree. The location of your tree should be a reasonable distance from any spot your cat likes to climb or perch on, including cat trees, counters, and shelves.
  2. Cover all your electric cords. Chewing a live wire can prevent chewing that may lead to shocks or burns.
  3. Block the water from your tree from pet access. Some trees have added chemicals to help them stay green, which can be toxic to pets. Covering your tree base in foil or a tree skirt can prevent your cat from drinking water.
  4. Avoid dangling ornaments. Of course, they look like a toy for swatting and chewing. Also, ornament hooks can cause puncture wounds.
  5. Remember, tinsel is toxic. If your cat swallows something stringy, it may wrap around the base of the tongue or anchor itself in the stomach. If it cannot pass through the intestines, it could cause damage to the intestinal tract.

According to the ASPCA, some holiday plants are toxic to animals (poinsettias, lilies, and mistletoe included). Also, remember that not all human holiday treats are ideal for dogs and cats (especially chocolate). In addition to being a fire hazard, some candles can cause respiratory risks for pets.

Remember to Donate to Pets In Need

Not all pets will have the happiest of holidays. If your dog, cat, or pet has lightly used toys, beds, or uneaten treats, dozens of pets drop them off at your local shelter. Top rescue needs typically include linens, trash bags, pet food, hygiene products, and potty-training pads. You can also donate in your pet’s name.

At St. Bernard Veterinary Hospital, our goal is to give your pet a comprehensive, stress-free exam and to answer any of your questions. You can rest assured that our team will provide your pet with the best medical care. Click here to schedule your appointment today or call 504-277-0141.   

New Puppy, Changing Vets, Adopted a Pet? What to Expect at Your First Pet Visit!

From your first puppy to your old cat, regardless of your pet’s age, the first trip to your pet’s doctor is significant. This first visit allows our doctors at St. Bernard Veterinary Hospital to view your pet’s medical history and do a thorough physical exam. Unsure of what to expect at your pet’s first visit? Here is a quick guide: 

For Puppies and Kittens 

Within the first week of bringing your new pet home, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Depending on the vaccinations your pet may need, you may need to schedule follow-up visits once a month for the first two-three months, followed by a visit every three months. Like humans, animals don’t build immunity to certain diseases and infections immediately. They will also need monthly heartworm prevention, which we give based on their weight from month-to-month visits. Ask our receptionist about a program we offer called the puppy/kitten program. It includes monthly vaccines, heartworm prevention, exams, and flea prevention for about 4 – 5 months. At any time during the program, your pet’s exams are at no charge if something goes wrong. Plus, a 10% discount is applied to your pet’s spay/neuter and your first heartworm /flea prevention purchase. The price is insanely low for the program, and you would spend significantly more if you did each visit individually without the program.

Over the first year of a puppy or kitten’s life, visits to your veterinarian regularly will give your pet’s doctor a chance to monitor the animal’s health. Depending on your pet’s species and breed, city requirements, and personal preferences, your pet’s doctor may recommend certain vaccines to prevent future sicknesses, such as ringworm or rabies. By doing a fecal analysis and blood tests, your veterinarian can test for any disease. During the exam, your pet’s doctor may consider other factors, such as posture, joint movements, respiratory rate, and overall body condition, and make recommendations. Our doctors may also recommend spaying or neutering your animal and discuss a good time to schedule the procedure, depending on the pet’s age. It may also be a good time to discuss insurance plans, socialization, and training strategies with your pet’s doctor to prevent issues in their adult life.

Older Pets

If you are making an appointment for the first time with St. Bernard Veterinary Hospital, and your pet has medical records, you should bring them with you. Your pet’s doctor will want to know about any preexisting conditions or just history in general. During your pet’s physical exam, the doctor will inspect your pet’s eyes, ears, teeth, heart, lungs, and other organs with a physical exam. Our doctors can also detect illnesses, intestinal parasites, fleas, heartworms, or other pests that may have followed your pet home.

Depending on your pet’s physical exam results, you may be advised to change your pet’s diet and maximize nutritional intake while minimizing the risk of digestive issues. A panel of bloodwork is also recommended if the situation is appropriate. A check-up at our office will reduce the chances of an unexpected illness. If your pet is eight years old or older, your pet’s veterinarian will look specifically for cancerous growths or bone issues. 

Certain medications may help your dog or cat manage pain or fight disease. A follow-up appointment schedule will be unique to each animal.

Your Pet’s First Visit will include the following:

  • Dental Check
  • Skin, Ears, Eyes, & Heart Check
  • Current Record Review & Health Plan
  • External Parasite Exam & Consultation
  • Diet and Nutrition Consultation

At St. Bernard Veterinary Hospital, our goal is to give your pet a comprehensive, stress-free exam and to answer any of your questions. You can rest assured that our team will provide your pet with the best medical care. Click here to schedule your appointment today, or call 504-277-0141.