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Allergies and your pet

dog has allergies in FloridaWhat’s the most common reason for a dog or a cat to visit their veterinarian?  The answer may surprise you. When I talk with friends outside of the veterinary industry- this topic often comes up, and most people think it has something with fluids coming out of one end or another.  Believe me, I’ve seen enough pets with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea to last a lifetime- but it’s not the most common reason for pets coming in to see the vet. Topping the list is dermatitis.  It’s a fancy term we doctors use to describe itchy skin. If you’re not familiar with basic medical terminology- derma (skin) it is (inflammation). Your pet’s skin becomes inflamed, causing them to itch.

There are lots of reasons your pet may scratch, lick or chew at themselves trying to get relief from their itchy condition. Some are relatively easy to manage or eliminate. Unfortunately, some conditions are chronic, and may likely require a lifetime of treatment to manage and keep under control.

Fleas & Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Did you know that there are literally more than 1,000 different types of fleas that have been identified throughout the world?  The one we concern ourselves with when it comes to your pet is the Ctenocephalides felis- better known as the cat flea.  Despite its name, it does not discriminate between cats or dogs. Although there are other species of fleas that can affect our pets, the cat flea is far and away the most common.

When a flea bites your pet to feed, it leaves leaves behind saliva.  Some pets are highly allergic to the saliva, and just one flea bite can send your pet into a tizzy. This is known as flea allergy dermatitis. For pets sensitive to flea saliva, the itching lasts well beyond the moment of the bite, often for days.

The primary treatment in all flea cases is prevention with a veterinarian recommended product. There are numerous oral or topical products that kill fleas or interrupt the flea’s reproductive cycle. Keeping fleas out of your pet’s environment is crucial.  Treatment of the itch can be difficult in severe cases of flea allergy dermatitis. Some treatments include medicated baths, antihistamines or in more severe cases, steroids.  Only your veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist will know which product will help relieve your pet’s flea allergy dermatitis and calm the itch.

Of course, at Highland Pet Hospital, we have numerous flea prevention products that can help keep your pet (and home) flea free. For more information on how to control these pests.


In dogs and cats, there are four different types of allergies- which are broken down on how they trigger reactions in your pet. We’ve already covered the first one- fleas.  The other three are inhalant allergies, food allergies and contact allergies. Second to fleas, the most common allergy are inhalant allergies- caused by things floating around in the environment- like pollens, mold spores and household dust.

Just like us humans, your pet can fall victim to lots of environmental allergies- like grass and tree pollens which are common throughout the spring and summer months.  Usually for humans, our problems manifest themselves in symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes.  However, in many pets, the allergy symptoms show up in their skin.

These allergies are also known as atopic dermatitis. For pets who suffer from atopic dermatitis, it can be miserable. Your pet’s immune system is reacting (often over-reacting) to a foreign substance (allergen) and is trying to remove it- much like white blood cells attack infections in your pet’s bloodstream. Unfortunately, there are no true ‘cures’ for atopic dermatitis. We can only try to minimize the exposure to the allergen and manage the symptoms through treatment.

There are lots of different treatments for atopy.  In mild cases, routine bathing with medicated shampoos may be enough. In moderate to severe cases, a combination of antihistamines, steroids or other medications may be needed.  In recent years, new medications have shown a great improvement in alleviating the pet’s need to scratch themselves raw to find relief.  Two of these products are Cytopoint and Apoquel. Currently these products are intended for dogs only.  Both of these products work a little bit differently in your pet to prevent them from wanting to scratch themselves silly.  Zoetis, the manufacturer of both Apoquel and Cytopoint tell us:

warning: lots of scientific words ahead- translation below!

Apoquel is a selective janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor with activity against JAK-1- and JAK-3-dependent cytokines. It has both antipruritic and anti-inflammatory properties, which reduces levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-2, IL-4, IL-6 and IL-13, as well as inhibiting activity of IL-31, known as the pruritogenic (or itch-producing) cytokine.

Cytopoint is a monoclonal antibody therapy that binds canine IL-31 to rapidly reduce the itch associated with canine atopic dermatitis. Cytopoint was developed via a genetic engineering process known as “caninization” where the protein was made less immunogenic but still maintains highly specific binding for canine IL-31. It binds IL-31, the pruritogenic cytokine, in the extracellular space so that it cannot bind its cytokine receptor on neurons in the skin and transmit the sensation of pruritus.

You’re thinking- what the heck does that even mean?  In plain English, it makes it so your pet doesn’t even feel like scratching themselves- even if they have been exposed to things we know they are allergic to in the environment. Both products can begin relieving symptoms quickly, usually within 24 hours. The results for most pets is dramatic, with pet parents simply loving the results- and bringing both relief and joy to their pets.

Apoquel is an oral medication, and needs to be given on a regular schedule, while Cytopoint is an injectable, and lasts for several weeks.  Each medication is a little different, so your veterinarian will discuss with you which is better for your pet’s atopic conditions.

It is important to note that these products are designed only to defeat the allergens that affect your pet. If your pet has already been scratching and has developed other symptoms (redness, swelling, skin infections, etc.) we need to treat these items too. They are the direct result of scratching by your pet, and not caused by the allergen itself.

I will cover contact and food allergies in a later blog, so keep your eyes out for that one. Food allergies are common, and result in the many of the same itchy symptoms as other allergies.