Spring Allergies

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the flowers is?” Yes, it is that time of year when the flowers, trees, and grass put out large amounts of pollen. We humans suffer through the hay fever allergy season with our typical drugs of antihistamines and allergy shots. What about our dog and cat friends? They also suffer from allergies, but in a different manner. Dogs and cats ITCH. They lick their feet, rub their noses, scratch their ears, and lick their groin. This itching can lead to serious skin irritation. They are so itchy that the pain they inflict upon their licking, chewing, and scratching feels better than the itch. What causes this overwhelming itch? It starts with exposure to pollen, either outdoors or a simple walk in a screened patio. The pollen can hit the body anywhere. From the pollen touching the skin, the immune system takes over. It treats pollen as an invader and causes a series of reactions beneath the skin which leads to the itching. Very little of this reaction is caused by histamines. Antihistamines have little effect in controlling the itch.

Allery itch is the most common problem we see at the hospital. Early in my career, we only had cortisone of varying types to control itching from allergy. We still use these drugs, but newer, safer drugs have become more commonly used. These new drugs are targeted to blocking the reaction that leads to itch. By stopping the itch in that manner, fewer side effects occur. With cortisone drugs, we have the potential to cause increased appetite and increased thirst, which might lead to urinating in the house. Diabetes can occur with long term use of cortisone. The new drugs have none of these problems and are very effective in stopping the itch. Other options for special cases would be making the pet less reactive to pollen with allergy shots similar to what people have.

With today’s advances in drugs, the itchy dog can be made comfortable. Unfortunately, the same drugs are not currently available for cats. We are looking forward to new treatments for our feline friends.

David J. Smith, VMD

Bay Road Animal Hospitals