We’ve all heard the saying “It’s just allergies,” but when it comes to your pets, leaving those allergies undiagnosed and untreated can cause further health issues.
Mild allergic reactions to pollen, mold, bug bites from fleas or other insects, house dust mites and other allergens tend to grow worse from prolonged exposure. Whether or not these allergies are diagnosed, if they are not well managed, over time continual contact or allergy attacks (periodic episodes of intense exposure) can bring on stronger symptoms. In addition, ongoing allergies can cause secondary problems including ear problems, skin bacterial infection, skin yeast infection, eye problems, and upper respiratory discomfort. These secondary conditions may even continue after the allergic reaction has passed or controlled. Allergies typically cause inflammation in the skin, ears and nasal region, which can persist even after allergies appear to have calmed down. Even seasonal or intermittent allergies may cause such inflammation ongoing, with or without ongoing discomfort to the pet.
Untreated allergies can be uncomfortable for the patient, with a worsening of allergy signs over time. In addition, allergies also pose risk for recurring or prolonged health problems such as skin, ear, and nasal problems. Identifying and controlling the underlying allergy is vital in limiting such negative effects on the pet. Following are some of the effects of uncontrolled allergies in pets, when the allergy is not well managed or is inadequately managed allergies in dogs and cats.
Prolonged allergen exposure in cat or dog skin allergies causes skin inflammation and, if uncorrected, typically results in chronic skin irritation and inflammation. Environmental allergies are the most common pet allergy seen in our vet dermatology practice for cats and dogs. Environmental allergies result in the skin’s protective barrier being weakened. Thus, allergen exposure often causes frequent bacterial skin infection as a result of allergic reactions. Malassezia yeast infection of skin and yeast paw infection also often occur.
Allergies also cause itchiness due to skin inflammation. The skin inflammation may be easily noted as redness of the skin, or it may be occurring at the cellular level and may not be visible to the naked eye. Itchiness is often seen as the allergic pet needs to scratch, paw, and chew at their skin when irritated and inflamed. Itching and infections described above can then further cause self-injury to the skin, which in turn invites secondary infection.
Skin problems in allergic pets are often affected by this vicious cycle of inflammation, itchiness and infection in allergic cats and dogs. If any of these factors, including the underlying pet allergy, remain uncorrected this will lead to ongoing or recurrent skin problems.
Yes, ear infections can occur due to underlying allergies in dogs and cats. In fact, the most common underlying primary cause of ear problems in animals is allergies! Cats also tend to exhibit a classical form of itchiness when they are affected by allergies, called ‘head and neck scratching’. While ear infection needs to be treated once it is present, there is often a need to find the underlying allergy so that further ear discomfort and ear infections can be prevented.
Ongoing or recurrent ear problems, including ear infection, can often lead to further complications if the allergen exposure persists or recurs.
Chronic ear problems are quite discomforting to dogs and cats, and can even lead to ruptured ear drums, wax plug formation and development of ear masses in the ear canal.
Correcting the underlying allergy can minimize such concerns, and depending on the patient’s specific ear concerns, either minimal or no ear care can be expected in the long run.
Nasal, Eye, & Respiratory Problems
Pets are just like humans when it comes to matters such as sniffly noses, watery eyes or even asthma like symptoms. Cats can be affected by asthma with involvement of an underlying allergic cause. Watery eye or nasal discharge is a sign of inflammation in these parts of the body. If inflammation persists for long enough or if the immune system is compromised during this time, bacterial infection of eyes and nose can occur. While respiratory signs including eye and nasal problems are not as commonly discomforting as skin and ear conditions in allergic pets, it is best to avoid them or minimize these allergy symptoms on a timely basis.
Inflamed eyelids, watery nose, eye discharge, wheezing, sneezing, congestion, coughing, reverse sneezing and infection of any of these areas can be associated with allergies. A number of non-allergic conditions may also cause these symptoms.
Do Not Leave Allergies in Pets Undiagnosed
As you may have gathered with the above discussion, allergies in pets are almost always more than “just an allergy”! Please see your veterinarian and ask for a thorough search of the underlying cause of allergies in your pet, or referral to our pet dermatologist if you both suspect an unconfirmed allergy to be the cause of skin, ear, eye or respiratory problems in your pet. A pet dermatologist can diagnose the root cause of the allergy, identify allergy triggers and treat the issues adequately, before more serious discomfort or problems come up. Dermatologists for animals are also the pet allergist, as veterinary patient allergies often affect the skin. A happy and healthy pet means you can rest easy, and so can your pet.
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Dr. Jangi Bajwa is a Board certified veterinary dermatologist at VetDERM Clinic in Surrey BC. He is also the dermatology feature editor for Canadian Veterinary Journal. Dr. Bajwa’s special interests include otitis and allergic disease in pets; as well as helping improve quality of life of pets and their families.