Critter Buzz: Pets can have allergies just like people

Did you know that animals can be allergic to things, just like you?

If your pet is itchy, ruling out parasites or simple skin infections is easy and is often very simple to treat; however, if that treatment fails to resolve the itching and irritated skin, it is important to rule out allergies.

Many people don’t know that animals can be allergic to certain components in the food they eat. Your veterinarian can recommend a food that contains a new protein that they have never consumed before, and if the previous food is the cause of the problem, the skin problems will often dissipate with time.

In order to test for this problem, the animal must be fed the new food exclusively (including treats) for six to eight weeks (this means no table scraps!). If the skin issues improve, there is a good chance that a food allergy is the cause.

If the allergy is not caused by food, it is possible your pet may be allergic to something in their environment. Pets can have reactions to many different allergens including dander from other animals, pollen and different types of grasses.

Last year we met an incredible pup named Shelby. She came from a situation where she was not receiving the care that she needed for her skin problems. She was missing hair all over her body, her skin was chronically thickened, and she was itchy all the time. After running many tests, we learned that many of her skin problems were due to allergies. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to immediately send her to a dermatologist who could provide her with advanced testing and treatment for her problems.

With the help of the dermatologist, we learned that Shelby suffered from environmental allergies, and found that she was allergic to almost every type of grass imaginable. We set out on a path to get her itch under control. Shelby was treated for months with antibiotics, medicated baths and specially made immunotherapy to desensitize her to the allergens. At long last, her allergies are under control and she is feeling great again. She’s ready for adoption!

Most animals don’t have such severe problems, but Shelby’s story is a great example of how complicated skin issues can be. The best advice is that if you have an animal that appears to be itchy, don’t wait until the problems become severe before taking it to a veterinarian. Many times the solution is simple, such as flea treatment. But if there is an allergic component present, the sooner it is diagnosed, the easier it will be to manage in the long run.

Be Shelby’s hero — adopt her!

Shelby is ready to find her forever home! This sweet, senior girl loves the great outdoors and enjoys spending her time playing fetch with squeaky balls, going on walks and hikes, and getting lots of belly rubs. Shelby will need ongoing medical support for her special needs. If you’d like to learn more about her needs, or if you’re interested in giving her a loving new home, call the Lawrence Humane Society at 785-843-6835.

— Jennifer Stone is the medical director and staff veterinarian at the Lawrence Humane Society. She has been a shelter veterinarian for more than a decade.