All About The Itch: Atopy

Before we start, a small side note: Hey guys! I want to apologize for missing Thursday’s blog update. Since I’ve started actively blogging, meeting a twice-weekly schedule has been one of my top priorities. I hope to deliver relevant, informative content on a timeline that my readers can expect and rely on. Thursday, I failed to do that- I was sick with the stomach bug. In the future, I hope to have each post written a few days in advance so that I can be a more reliable blogger for my audience. Thanks for sticking with me!

Today, we’re going to be talking about something called atopy.

Atopy (also known as atopic dermatitis) is a condition that results in chronic dermatitis (skin inflammation), and is associated with allergies, usually from the environment. Atopy is in full bloom here around the tristate. I’ve been seeing itchy dogs (and even itchy cats) left and right. Unfortunately, atopy can be a very difficult problem to diagnose, and can be even more difficult to manage.

Here are 5 things you should know about atopy in dogs and cats;

  1. Allergens invade your pet’s immune system through the skin- not the respiratory system. It was once thought that, much like humans, dogs inhaled their allergens, which then caused a skin reaction. We now know that the allergens that cause skin inflammation break directly through the skin barrier. Because of this, keeping your pet’s coat healthy with topical shampoos and essential fatty acids is extremely important in treating this disease.
  2. Atopy can only be ‘definitively diagnosed’ when all other causes of itching and skin inflammation are ruled out. Atopic dermatitis is what veterinarians call a “diagnosis of exclusion.” That means that we cannot say for certain that skin disease is caused by environmental allergies unless we rule out all other causes of skin inflammation. These causes include mites and other topical parasites, food allergy, bacterial infection, ringworm- the list keeps going. If your vet is suggesting diagnostic tests, don’t get frustrated! Remember that your vet is just trying to make sure that a different problem isn’t going undetected.
  3. A wide variety of allergens can play a role in atopic dermatitis. Dogs can be allergic to seemingly ridiculous things- even cat dander! Common allergens associated with atopy include animal dander, dust and dust mites, feathers, fleas, grains, cleaners, insects, mold spores, plants, pollen, and wool. Because many of these allergens are ubiquitous in the environment (meaning: everywhere, no matter what), eliminating them from the atopic pet’s environment is often not possible. However, if you can find out what the cause of the reaction is- eliminating or reducing exposure to the allergen is a good place to start.
  4. There is no cure for atopic dermatitis. But it can be managed. Usually, long term management involves allergy testing and immunotherapy (small doses of the allergen that are given to desensitize the pet to its effects). In the last few years, products such as apoquel and atopica have been developed to act as immune suppressants, which decrease a pet’s immune response to an allergen. Recently, a product called Cytopoint has launched that is a biologic aimed at preventing the itch signal from being released in dogs. These products are impressive and have very few side effects compared to traditional treatments (such as steroids), but they can be expensive, and patients usually require them at least periodically for life.
  5. Symptomatic treatment can help some pets. Some pets may benefit from using anti-histamines, topical anti-itch medications, and short courses of steroids (long-term steroid use is no longer advised due to the high risk of dangerous side effects). However, these treatments may not be enough in severe cases of atopy. Some pets may do well for most of the year on antihistamines, and only need apoquel (or the other products listed above) during flare ups. Which treatment is best for your pet depends on many factors, and your veterinarian is the best person to ask for advice!

If you think that your pet may be having signs of atopic dermatitis (such as inflamed ears, head shaking, licking the paws, gnawing the legs or forearms, scooting his back on furniture, and otherwise itching excessively), talk to your vet about the short and long-term options for treatment. Remember that atopy is a complicated disease and that there is no permanent cure. However, you can substantially improve your pet’s comfort level and quality of life by communicating well with your veterinarian and by being dedicated to life-long management.

Question for readers: Has your pet ever been diagnosed with atopy or “allergies?” What steps did you and your vet take to improve his or her quality of life?

 

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My 5 Favorite Flea Preventions (For Cats)

Hi Y’all! Last weekend, I confessed my feline flea prevention faux pas. On Thursday, we talked about my 5 favorite flea preventions for dogs. Today, we’re going to give the cat people some love. Flea prevention is just as important for cats (even if they are indoor only) as it is for dogs. Cats often have fleas with few symptoms or signs- they are fastidious groomers and an owner may see their cat itch and be unsure why.  However, many flea products available on the market can be harmful or deadly to cats, and so it is important to know which products are best for your kitty.

Although this article will focus mainly on flea products, many of the products I list below are also heartworm preventatives. Heartworm disease in cats results in respiratory distress and can even be fatal. Your cat won’t need a heartworm test to get started on heartworm prevention, but it must be purchased from a vet or with a veterinarian’s prescription, so talk to your vet today about getting on flea and heartworm prevention.

Disclaimer: I have not been sponsored or paid to write about these products by anyone. These opinions are my own and are based of 2 years of experience as a veterinarian and a combined total of nearly 10 years of working in the veterinary medical field. My opinions do not necessarily represent the views of my employer or of the veterinary medical profession as a whole. To ensure complete transparency, products listed below that are followed by a star are sold in the veterinary practice where I work. Products that are italicized have been given to me as free samples by company representatives.

Please note that I only recommend products that are safe and effective. I would never recommend anything that I didn’t feel comfortable using on my own pets.

Now, without further ado, here are my 5 Favorite Flea Preventions For Cats

  1. Revolution* 
    Revolution is a very safe, gentle, and effective flea and heartworm preventative. It is applied topically on the back of the neck and lasts for a month. It also protects against ear mites, roundworms, and hookworms. I use this product frequently on my two cats. This is also the product I use on many small mammal species, such as ferrets, guinea pigs, and rabbits (although this is considered “off label” use).
  2. Advantage Multi
    This product is also a topical flea and heartworm prevention that protects against ear mites, roundworms, and hookworms. The biggest difference between this product and revolution is that Advantage Multi has been tested and is labeled for use on ferrets. This product is only available through your vet, but another product marketed by Bayer (and available over the counter) is Advantage II, which is essentially Advantage Multi without the heartworm and intestinal parasite component.
  3. Bravecto for Cats*
    This is one of the newer products on the market, and it is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Like the others, It is a topical that is applied to the back- but it only has to be applied every three months. The only downside is that you must apply a larger volume of product compared to Advantage or revolution, and the solution is somewhat greasy until it dries. It protects against fleas and ticks, but does not protect against heartworms or intestinal parasites. I recommend using a monthly oral heartworm prevention, such as Heartgard, if you’re using this product.
  4. Comfortis*
    Comfortis is a prescription product that is also available for dogs. We didn’t talk about it for dogs as I prefer Trifexis for dogs, which is essentially comfortis plus heartworm prevention. There isn’t a trifexis for cats, unfortunately, so you should pair comfortis with a monthly heartworm prevention. It is a tablet you must give once monthly, by mouth. The biggest downside is that this tablet is somewhat large, and can be difficult to give to cats as they can be significantly harder to give medicines to than dogs.
  5. Seresto
    Seresto for cats is an over-the-counter collar that prevents fleas and ticks for 8 months. I really like this product. It is very safe, effective, and has a safety release mechanism in case you cat gets caught on something. I don’t recommend any other type of flea collar for cats- seresto is different from other collars because it is safe and effective, isn’t greasy or smelly, and doesn’t contain chemicals that are highly toxic to cats.

Question for readers: Are you guilty on skimping on your cat’s monthly flea and heartworm prevention? Have you ever had a good or bad experience with a product? Share below!

If you liked this post, please comment, subscribe, or share to help us reach more pet owners! Don’t forget to stop by on Thursday, where we will break down my 5 LEAST Favorite Flea Preventative for Dogs and Cats.

P.S. Happy Easter!

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Photo cred for Easter Bunny and Orange Cat Picture: Pexels.com