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Allergy - Flea Allergy Dermatitis (Felines)
What are allergies and how do they affect cats?
One of the most common conditions affecting cats is allergy. An allergy occurs when the cat's immune system "overreacts" to foreign substances called allergens or antigens. Allergens and antigens are simply foreign proteins that the body's immune system tries to remove. These overreactions are manifested in one of three ways:
1. The most common manifestation is itching of the skin, either localized in one area or a generalized reaction all over the cat's body.
2. Another manifestation involves the respiratory system and may result in coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. Sometimes, there may be an associated nasal or ocular (eye) discharge.
3. The third manifestation involves the digestive system, resulting in vomiting, flatulence or diarrhea.
Does that mean that there are several types of allergies?
There are four common types of allergies in the cat: contact, flea, food, and inhalant. Each of these has some common expressions in cats, and each has some unique features.
What is meant by the term "flea allergy"?
"In an allergic cat, just one bite can result in intense itching that can last for days."
In spite of common belief, a normal cat experiences only minor skin irritation in response to flea bites. Even in the presence of dozens of fleas, there will be very little itching. On the other hand, the cat with flea allergies has a severe reaction to flea bites. This occurs because the cat develops an allergic response to proteins or antigens that are present in the flea's saliva. When a flea bites a cat, some of its saliva is injected into the skin. In an allergic cat, just one bite can result in intense itching that can last for days. Cats with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) do not have to be infested with fleas; a single flea is enough to cause a problem!
What does this reaction do to the cat?
The cat's response to the intense itching is to chew, lick, or scratch the affected site or sites. This causes hair loss and can lead to open sores or scabs on the skin, allowing a secondary bacterial infection to develop. The area most commonly involved is over the rump, just in front of the tail. Many flea-allergic cats chew or lick the hair off their legs. Itching and hair loss around the tail base, neck and head should be considered suspicious for flea allergy dermatitis. In addition, the cat may have numerous, small scabs around the head and neck. These scabs are often referred to as miliary lesions, a term that was coined because the scabs look like millet seeds.
How is flea allergy dermatitis diagnosed?
Clinical signs often give the first indication that your cat may suffer from FAD. Cats are such fastidious groomers that it is frequently impossible to find any evidence of fleas or flea dirt on the coat, especially if only one or two fleas are causing the problem. Intradermal allergy tests (skin tests) or specialized blood tests (IgE tests) can confirm flea allergy in your cat.
What is the treatment for flea allergy dermatitis?
Since the flea saliva causes the reaction, the most important treatment for flea allergy is to prevent fleabites. Strict flea control is the foundation of successful treatment. There are many highly efficacious flea control products, both for treating the cat and for controlling fleas in the environment.
What about steroids or other drugs?
"Cats are more resistant to the negative side-effects of steroids than humans and dogs."
Corticosteroids ("cortisone" or "steroids") can be used to block the allergic reaction and give immediate relief. This is often a necessary part of treating flea allergy dermatitis. Some cats respond best to long-acting injections and others to oral medication.
Cats are more resistant to the negative side-effects of steroids than humans and dogs, but significant side-effects can occur if they are not used properly. For this reason, the goal is to administer the smallest amount of steroid needed to keep the cat comfortable. For some patients, combining corticosteroids with antihistamines and/or Omega fatty acid supplements will provide the ideal form of relief. If your cat develops a secondary bacterial skin infection (pyoderma) because of the scratching, antibiotics may also be necessary.
Allergy - Flea Allergy Dermatitis (Canines)
My dog's skin has always been itchy and every summer he has to be treated. After a recent series of tests and I was told that he has flea allergy dermatitis. The problem is that I have never seen a flea on him. Is this diagnosis correct?
In an allergic reaction, the immune system overreacts and produces antibodies to a substance that it would normally tolerate. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is the leading cause of itching in dogs. Adult fleas require a blood meal in order to reproduce. However, they do not usually remain on the dog except when they are feeding. When they feed, they inject a small amount of saliva into the skin. Proteins in the saliva cause an intensely itchy response to sensitive dogs.
"A single fleabite can cause itching for days."
Dogs with FAD do not have to be infested with fleas to be itchy. In fact, a single fleabite can cause itching for days.
How is flea allergy dermatitis diagnosed?
Clinical signs often give the first clue that your pet may suffer from FAD. Itching and hair loss in the region from the middle of the back to the tail base and down the rear legs (the "flea triangle") is often associated with FAD. Intradermal allergy tests (skin tests) or specialized blood tests (IgE blood tests) can confirm flea allergy in your dog.
What does treatment involve?
"Since the injection of flea saliva causes the allergic response, it is important to prevent fleas from biting your dog."
Since the injection of flea saliva causes the allergic response, it is important to prevent fleas from biting your dog. Strict flea control is essential. Even though you have not seen fleas on the dog, it is important that you continue rigorous flea treatment and maintain environmental control. Outdoor dogs pose a particular challenge.
What about desensitization
Desensitization or administering "allergy injections" involves injecting increasing doses of a diluted flea antigen over a prolonged period. In some cases, these allergy injections may be required for the pet's life. Desensitization therapy is successful in approximately half of FAD cases; our trusted company Heska, assists us with the aid of minimizing allergies in Canines.
What about steroids or other drugs?
Corticosteroids, "cortisone" or "steroids" are widely used to treat FAD. They often bring about miraculous relief from the itching. However, there are significant potential side effects to steroid use. The long-term use of corticosteroids can ultimately result in more harm than good. Steroids can be safely used for short-term relief while flea control is being implemented. Combining corticosteroids with antihistamines and/or Omega fatty acid supplements is an ideal regimen for many patients. The goal is to use the lowest dosage of corticosteroids as possible, as infrequently as possible, preferably on an alternating-day basis. If your dog has developed a secondary bacterial skin infection because of the scratching, antibiotics may also be necessary.
Dr. Joe Barbosa, of Animal Hospital of Hallandale will discuss the pros and cons of the various treatments for FAD with you during the examination; he will recommend the safest and most effective treatment plan for your pet's individual needs. Contact us today with any questions and/or to make an appointment
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