Is your dog rubbing his face on the carpet? Licking his paws? Biting the area under his tail? Have you been giving her Benadryl? Zyrtec? What about Claritin?
You are wasting your time and money. These over the counter antihistamines are for human allergies. Human beings have most allergic responses in their respiratory tract where histamine producing cells reside.
Dogs and cats do not manifest their allergies in their respiratory tracts. Allergy in dogs and cats shows up in the skin and ears where there are NOT histamine producing cells. Unless your dog or cat is having hives or has to be pre-treated prior to a vaccination, an antihistamine will not do a thing except maybe cause some drowsiness. We used to recommend these — this is because it was all we had and there was not the information on the molecular milieu that is inflammation that there is today.
There have been some major advancements in allergic skin disease in dogs and cats in the past three years. Allergic flare in dogs and cats is mediated by cytokones. These are the circulating inflammation making molecules in the body. These are also known as interleukins or “IL” for short. IL-2, IL-4, IL-6. And IL-13 are the active ones in the body causing the skin inflammation. IL-31 is also present, and this is the one that causes the extreme itch and redness of an allergic skin flare.
Allergies are inherited, and they are a defect of the immune system that your pet has.
Some allergy treatments will suppress the immune system. For severe cases, this can be needed and, if monitored carefully by your veterinarian, can be safe.
Whenever we can, we prefer not to perturb the workings of your pet’s natural immunity. Instead, we can use a monoclonal antibody (natural biologic) that will bind to the IL-31 and stop the itch. This medication, called cytopoint, is given by injection. This can last 4-6 weeks. This medication is currently only used in dogs. Some dogs benefit from regular “cytopointments” every 4-6 weeks to keep them comfortable and happy without interfering with their immune system function. The antibody for IL-31 is made naturally in your dog’s body already.
Another newer treatment is called Apoquel. This medication inhibits an enzyme that makes those cytokines of inflammation (the interleukins). It also has an effect on the IL-31 of itch.
This is usually used in place of cytopoint and sometimes can be used once after cytopoint is given by injection to stop the itch while the injection kicks in or when the cytopoint is wearing off.
If your dog is really itchy, the above treatments or others may in fact be in order. But did you know that an allergic dog may have a skin infection on top of the allergies? It’s very common for this to happen. Allergic, inflamed skin cries out for bacteria and yeast to grow, grow, grow; this results in an infection. Before any of these medications can work, the infection must be controlled first. This is why it's not good for your pet to guess — get your dog or cat seen if you think there are allergies.
More Facts You Should Know
Many dogs and cats are allergic to more than one thing. Food, fleas, and environmental are the most common. Remember that kid in school when you were growing up that was allergic to everything? That happens — allergies are the result of immune function gone awry. So, if your dog or cat is itchy — use prescription strength flea and tick control ALWAYS. One flea bite can cause huge problems. And I am not referring to a flea infestation — this is the flea that hops on during a walk in the woods. All allergic animals should be on flea and tick control always. If you think your pet is allergic to food, get the science right. Dogs and cats are not allergic to grains.
Grain free diets are causing severe heart disease in dogs (see Tufts Petfoodology Website). A food trial with a prescription diet (hydrolyzed or novel) made on equipment that does not process anything else, is the only way to know.
Bottom line: If you have an itchy pet don’t guess and don’t try to treat yourself. Allergies progress over time and will get worse. Getting professional veterinary help in our office can slow the progression for some pets, and most pets will get good relief with the new allergy medications we have available.
Call us at 978-256-9555 to make an appointment!
Dr. Tiffany J. Rule, DVM, is a veterinarian at Countryside Veterinary Hospital. She received her DVM degree from NC State University of Veterinary Medicine.