The severity of my symptoms varies with the season. I suspect I react to an indoor allergen or two since without the benefit of an antihistamine, I pretty much always have a runny nose. Spring can be rough when the tree pollen numbers skyrocket. Our trees are just starting to bud out, but I suspect pollen from warmer climes is arriving on our notorious spring winds. Early summer isn’t too bad for me (that is the time when grass pollen rules) but then comes late summer/fall and all the weed pollen. Saying the word “August” is enough to make me sneeze.
I’m not looking for sympathy, just relating my experiences because this ebb and flow is quite similar to what itchy, allergic pets experience. If you are starting to notice an increase in scratching, licking, and chewing, now’s the time to act because the most benign forms of treatment work best when symptoms are just getting going.
Start by bathing your pet, ideally once or twice a week. This removes allergens that are trapped in your dog or cat’s coat. In pets, allergens primarily assert their effect through contact with the animal’s skin. Medicated shampoos and leave-in rinses should be used in more severe cases, but frankly a mild, moisturizing shampoo is often sufficient as long as baths occur frequently enough.
I also recommend doing what you can to improve the skin’s natural barrier function. Oral omega 3 fatty acid supplements can be helpful, as can topical products like Dermoscent Essential 6 Spot-On or Duoxo Seborrhea Spot-On. These are all available over the counter and are very safe. Proper dosing for omega 3 fatty acid supplements hasn’t yet been fully researched, so I often resort to telling clients to follow the directions on the label if they are using a canine or feline product or aim for around 22 mg/kg/day of eicosapentanoic acid (EPA).
The use of antihistamines in dogs and cats with allergies is somewhat controversial. The sad reality is that in the vast majority of veterinary patients they are not nearly as effective as they are in people. That said, they are worth a try, particularly if they are used in conjunction with other treatments or to prevent the onset of symptoms rather than to deal with them once they are in full swing. I often first try diphenhydramine in dogs (2-4 mg/kg every 8-12 hours) and chlorpheniramine in cats (2-4 mg per cat — NOT per kg — twice daily), but determining which type of antihistamine works best in an individual is a crap shoot. I’ll try three different ones before throwing up my hands and writing off the whole class of drugs for that patient.
If frequent bathing, essential fatty acid supplements (oral and/or topical), and antihistamines don’t control a pet’s symptoms, it’s time to move on to plan B, which might include allergy testing followed by desensitization, corticosteroids, cyclosporine, and/or other ways of suppressing the patient’s abnormal immune response. As always, talk to your veterinarian about what is best for your pet.
Dr. Jennifer Coates