Skin allergies are sadly one of the most common conditions we see in veterinary practice, affecting around 5-7% of dogs and cats. The symptoms can range from mild foot licking through to persistent and debilitating itching, infection and skin damage.
Allergies are generally divided into three groups- environmental (also known as atopy), flea, and food allergy. Environmental is by far the most common, while food allergies only affect around 0.2% of dogs. Potential triggers (or allergens) in the environment can be as diverse as pollens, dander, mold, dust mites and cleaning products. The most common food allergens are beef, lamb, chicken, dairy, and wheat. Given this wide range of different allergens, and the fact that an allergic pet can react similarly to many different triggers, it is very difficult to isolate exactly what may be causing your pet’s symptoms.
The most common sign that your pet may have allergies is general itchiness, which can show as scratching, licking, rubbing against objects, scooting their bottom, or rolling around on their back to scratch a particularly difficult itch! Ear and foot infections are also very common. The allergic response leads to breakdown of the skin’s natural immune functions, which allows bacteria and yeast to easily overgrow and cause nasty infections.
Treatment of allergies is not simple, and there is no easy or quick ‘cure’. In most cases, the best we can hope for is to manage the symptoms as effectively as possible to reduce the itching to an acceptable level. To achieve this in most cases your pet will require long term or lifelong treatment. As allergies are so complex it is always best to discuss all of the potential options for diagnosis, treatment and management with your vet as fully as possible. There are many excellent treatment options available nowadays, and an allergy diagnosis need no longer mean a lifetime of itching for your best friend.