This is the time of year when many of us humans are having a difficult time dealing with allergies.  The cypress and oaks are in full bloom, making us miserable.  Signs of allergies in humans tend to be sneezing and itchy eyes, but in pets, the manifestations are different.  In pets, the most common symptom is itching.

But what is an allergy?  An allergy is a condition where the immune system over reacts to the exposure of the individual to a particular substance.  These substances are referred to as allergens.  These allergens may come from insects, plant, or other animals. Examples of common allergens are pollens, dust mites, molds, and saliva from insect bites, including fleas.  Multiple exposures to the allergens can cause the immune system to over react.  When certain immune system cells attach to the allergen, they release chemicals called antihistamines, which cause local inflammation. It is this inflammation, which causes the signs associated with an allergic reaction.  The most common symptom seen is itching, but other symptoms may be present.  Some of these are sneezing, coughing, gastrointestinal upset, itchy eyes and runny nose.

There are several types of allergies in pets, but the most common are allergies to: fleas, inhalant allergens, food, contact allergens, and bacterial hypersensitivity.   Each of these will be discussed individually.

The most common allergy is the flea allergy.  Fleas are prevalent in Tampa, and are present ALL YEAR LONG.  It is important to keep our pets on some type of flea allergy all year, especially those that suffer from allergies.  Many pet owners believe that their pets do not have any fleas, and that their itching is due to something else.  If the pet is allergic to fleas, only one flea bite can make it itch for more than a week!  The most common sign is biting, redness and hair loss around the tail and rump. In cats, one may also see crusty sores and bumps develop on the skin of the head and neck.  When the pet bites and scratches itself, it can lead to the development of sores that can become infected and cause more itching and discomfort. Fleas tend to congregate in the region of the tail and face, so these are areas that one should examine when checking for fleas.

A second type of allergy is the contact allergy.  This type of allergy occurs when a pet comes in direct contact with a substance that contains allergens to which it has become sensitized.  Some of these may be beds and linens made of wool, bowls made of plastic and even some detergents and cleaning supplies.  The only way to treat for this type of allergy is by avoidance.   Removal of the objects that contain the allergens is the key, but determining what the allergens are and what objects harbor them can be a challenge.

Next time we will discuss the last three most common types of allergies in pets.  These are bacterial hypersensitivity, food and inhalant allergies.

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