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To Scratch or not to Scratch - A Brief Look at Allergies in Pets

Allergies in pets(mostly dogs and cats) are diagnosed far more frequently these days than in the past. This is probably due to a combination of factors - more pets beingtaken to vets, better diagnostic tools, an increased allergen load in the environment, andprobably indiscriminate breeding.

Any animal can be allergic to any substance or product but generally pet allergies fit into one of several broad categories. These are:

1) Contact allergies.

2) Inhaled allergies (Atopy)

3) Food allergies

4) Flea allergy

The animal's immune system is responsible for the allergic reaction, which in many cases is seen as an intense itchyskin which makes the animal scratch a lot.However, a food allergy can also lead to vomitingand diarrhoea.

Unfortunately, once an animal is allergic to one factor, the chances are good thatit will be more likely to become allergic to other things in its environment. Likewise,the older the animal gets, the more severe the allergy is likely to become.

As a result, one of the methods used to control allergies is to minimise the allergen"load" on allergy prone individuals. This involves measures like using hypo-allergenicshampoos to wash the pet, minimising the flea and tick load on the animal, feeding hypo allergenic diets etc.

The first and most important step in treating an allergic reaction in a pet istrying to identify the allergen i.e. what caused the allergic reaction. This is ofteneasier said than done, especially if the condition has been present for some time before professional help is sought.

In most allergy cases the veterinarian (and the suffering pet!) are relying on you to give an accurate account of events leading up to when the symptoms were firstobserved. An accurate history can eliminate many possible causes straight away and allows the veterinarian to narrow the search down quickly to the most likely set of possibilities. This saves time and money and can speed up the diagnostic process. The faster an accurate diagnosis is made, the faster the relief for your pet.

A few warnings are in order though. From a veterinary point of view, allergiescan be an extremely frustrating! It is not uncommon for weeks and months ofdiagnostic effort to come up with nothing conclusive in terms of identifyingthe allergen. This is because many cases are multi-factorial in origin, with many allergens possibly playing a roll.

In any event, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to "cure" an allergy.Mostly the best you can hope for is to manage the condition by limiting yourpets exposure to the offending allergen(s) - the aforementioned allergen load.

There is little or anything the animal can do to avoid allergens in the food you feed it or the surrounds you keep it in.Your task then, as your

pets minder, is to enure that this allergen load is kept to a minimum which in turn will minimise the need for ongoingtreatment and will ensure a happier, healthier pet.

Keith Perrett is a qualified Veterinarian