The gold standard is to restrict exposure to potential allergens as much as possible. It may be impossible to avoid access to everything that your pet is allergic to, but often removing the allergens that are controllable will be enough to drop the allergen burden below the symptom-producing threshold. Some pets will still need to take medications (whether seasonally or lifelong), but reducing the number of triggering allergens will most likely mean that your pet needs a lower dose of medication to control their symptoms. Lower doses mean lower costs and fewer side effects.
Examining the skin for parasites and, if necessary, taking scrapes to examine under the microscope will often be the first step in analysing an animal with skin disease. While fleas can be seen, mites cannot, yet they will still irritate the heck out of your poor pet’s skin. Some types of mites are extremely difficult to find and are only considered to be absent once your pet has been treated to eliminate them.
Even if your pet looks clean and parasite-free, your vet will usually still recommend an external parasite treatment to be sure that they are not playing a role in inflaming the skin.
Allergy Blood Tests
Blood tests are great for identifying what your animal’s immune system is hyper-sensitised to. A large range of dietary, parasitic and environmental allergens are tested for, but obviously the range does not include grandma’s rug and every other thing that your pet comes into contact with.
The results from these tests can be used in two ways:
- Reduce contact with the identified allergens, for example, changing your pet’s diet, not walking them through the elm forest, treating your house for dust mites.
- Immunotherapy: This is a series of injections (containing immunotherapy solution) that is tailor-made according to what your animal is allergic to. These are designed to present the allergens in a new format to allow the immune system to desensitise to the identified allergens.
This is a huge source of potential allergens and it is important to eliminate these from your dog’s allergen burden. Your vet will discuss and recommend a diet trial for your pet based on their individual circumstances, and it is essential that they follow this diet trial only for at least 6-8 weeks - even if you don’t think it’s making a difference. When your pet is on a hypoallergenic diet it's important to eliminate ALL other items from their diet like table scraps and dog treats.
If your dog scavenges on walks, use a Baskerville muzzle or a short lead to prevent this – it’s ultimately in their best interests. If your cat eats at the neighbours, go and talk to them and explain the medical issues at stake and put a ‘do not feed me’ collar on them.
Using coats, medical t-shirts and booties can limit contact with outside pollutants and allergens. Check out our range of doggie coats here.
These can be used to control the pH, oil levels and bacterial and yeast burdens on a sensitive skin. There are many different types of shampoos available, all of which have specific effects on the skin or coat, and should be matched to your pet’s individual needs. These should always be used as advised by your vet.
- Short courses
These are used to control inflammation and secondary bacterial infections during flare-ups as described in our blog “Signs That Your Dog Has Atopy”.
- Chronic or long-term medication
It is likely impossible to prevent exposure of your pet to all environmental allergens, and he or she may still need medication to control their itchiness and give them quality of life. These range substantially in price, so there are options for every budget. These medications need to be prescribed and supervised by your vet, and you shouldn’t change doses or stop treatment without consulting them first.
Any flare-ups should be addressed promptly. The sooner treatment is started, the easier and quicker it usually is to get the allergies under control.
Supplement your pet’s diet with Omega-3 (fish oil supplement but NOT cod liver oil). Omega-3 oils are a natural anti-inflammatory and also help maintain a healthy oil layer on the skin, which acts as a natural barrier to allergens. It’s recommended that you choose a source of Omega-3 according to the results from the food allergy blood tests.
Unless your vet has specifically instructed, we’d recommend not shampooing your pet. It strips the natural oil layer off their skin and coat. This oil layer provides a barrier against contact with allergens and striping it off leaves the skin vulnerable. This can be difficult for some pet owners if their dogs smell a little yeasty, but you can be assured that your dog will be far less smelly once the allergies are under control.
Rinse your dog’s paws with fresh, clean water when they’ve been outside, and dry them off thoroughly. This reduces the number of allergens that your pet is bringing home with them, and removes allergens from the affected area.
Unfortunately there is no cure for atopy - no magic pill or easy fix. For the best treatment, follow the steps recommended by your vet, taking care not to deviate from their suggested diet or parasite control plan. If you’d feel more comfortable (and if your budget or insurance allows) you can discuss a referral to a specialist dermatologist with your vet.
Treating atopy is usually a long-term process. Try to be patient and manage your expectations - sometimes even with perfect treatment and care your pet may experience recurring skin issues.
For more detailed information we’d recommend you read our blog Understanding Atopy.
And to learn more about the signs and symptoms to look out for, (if you haven't read it already) click here.