Atopy, also known as inhalant allergy, is the second most common type of pet allergy. Similar to hay fever in people, atopy affects allergic pets through inhaled allergens. If your pet has an inhalant allergy, you likely have many questions about the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of this occasionally frustrating condition. Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions about atopy in pets.  

And, since we know you are wondering, the most common pet allergies are trips to the vet, baths, and not getting your pizza crust.  Actually, the most common pet allergies include pollens, molds, and dust mites. 

#1: Aren’t pets mostly allergic to their food?

Pets may  have food allergies, but less commonly than people. In fact, less than 1% of the pet population actually suffers from food allergies. And, if a pet truly does have a food allergy, the reaction is often caused by the protein source, not grains, such as corn, wheat, or rice. The most common food allergens for pets are chicken, beef, and dairy products. Food allergies in pets are misunderstood, and grain-free diets are seldom necessary for most pets. Current studies have shown grain-free diets are actually harmful and may lead  to an uncommon form of heart disease in both dogs and cats.  We do not recommend feeding grain free pet foods.  

#2: What causes atopy in pets?

Atopy in pets is triggered solely by inhaled allergens that vary by season, region, and climate—you may notice an increase or decrease in your pet’s atopy if you move across the country. But, many inhaled allergens are found in your home year-round, including mold, pollen, dander, and dust mites, which are a common atopy trigger and are found in every home.

#3: How is atopy different from other allergies?

Atopy is often seasonal, while food and contact allergies cause year-round problems. For example, if your pet is allergic to dust mites, she is likely itchier in the winter, when she is indoors more, and the constantly running furnace kicks out dry, dusty air. However, she may be itchy year-round if she is strictly an indoor pet. If your pet is allergic to certain pollens, winter is probably her good season. Her itching may stop, and her fur grows back.  

#4: What are atopy signs in my pet?

Unlike hay fever in people, pets with atopy do not develop a runny nose, sneezing, or watery eyes. Instead, their allergy signs manifest through their skin with itching, redness, irritation, and infection. Your pet may lick, chew, and bite at her skin, especially her ears and feet, and may develop chronic skin and ear infections. 

#5: How will I know if my pet suffers from atopy?

Diagnosing allergies in your pet can be tricky, as most pets are allergic to more than one trigger; for example, a flea-allergic dog may also be allergic to dust mites and oak tree pollen. Intradermal skin testing is the gold standard for determining a pet’s allergy trigger—your pet’s side is shaved, tiny amounts of allergens are injected under the skin, the reaction sites are monitored, and the allergic response is calculated, identifying your pet’s allergens. 

Another allergy test involves sending your pet’s blood sample to a laboratory, which will compile a list of your pet’s allergens. Your veterinary team will create a treatment plan based on the lab report, which may include immunotherapy—oral or injectable allergy “vaccines” given to your pet to help reduce the allergic response. 

#6: Will my atopic pet be itchy all year-round?

Depending on your pet’s allergens, she may or may not be itchy all year long. Seasonal allergies may flare during the spring and fall, when pollen levels are high, or she may suffer year-round with a dust-mite allergy. As your pet ages, her allergies may change, often becoming more severe. 

#7: How will my pet’s atopy be treated?

Atopy is a complex disease that often requires multimodal treatment, and treatment plans usually change during your pet’s lifetime. A few atopy treatment options include:

  • Antibiotic or antifungal medications for skin and ear infections
  • Prescription hypoallergenic diets that help boost skin health and reduce ingested allergens.  
  • Medicated shampoos to soothe itching, and battle yeast and bacteria
  • Immunotherapy drops or injections
  • Apoquel, an itch-blocking medication which targets small proteins involved in dog allergies
  •  Cytopoint, a long lasting injection, which blocks signals that trigger itching, and works like your dog’s own immune system 
  • Antihistamines
  • Oral or injectable steroids, such as Prednisone

As your pet’s allergies mature and change with her, a treatment that successfully managed her itching and scratching one year may not work the next year. Maintain a log of her signs and comfort level with each season and each treatment to help us determine what works best. 

Is your furry friend’s itching driving you both crazy? Atopy may be the cause—call us to schedule an appointment to get your four-legged pal’s itching under control.