The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) declares the month of May each year as a month in which all the medical professionals raise awareness on the topic of asthma and allergies. This time of the year is chosen because it is the perfect time for seasonal allergies and thus the perfect time to educate people how to protect themselves and their pets more easily.
Asthma and allergies are illnesses for which there is no cure. The only possibility is a therapy which will ease the symptoms and, in that way, will not lead to complications. Statistics say that each day 10 people die from asthma, that 24.5 Americans deal with asthma, and around 50 million American have allergies.
What about asthma and pets?
Asthma in dogs can be explained as an allergic reaction to a trigger in the nearby environment. Exposure to this particular allergen will trigger an inflammation with uncontrollable mucus (or fluid) build up in the lungs, which may block or narrow the airways and, in that way to make the breathing more difficult.
The risk factors that we have to be aware of when it comes to our dogs are of course smoke (tobacco smoke, fireplaces etc), harsh household cleaners (always make sure that your cleaning products are pet and environment friendly), perfumes and air fresheners, air pollution (sadly not always avoidable), pollen, mold and mold spores, fertilizers and pesticides, sometimes even cat litter dust.
The symptoms of asthma that a dog will exhibit are:
- excessive panting that lasts longer than usual. Sometimes they have “wide mouth” as they struggle to get air.
- coughing and wheezing
- due to lower oxygen levels, loss of appetite and energy
- when the asthma is more severe, pale or blue gums may be noticeable
In any case, if you notice any of these symptoms or other unusual behavior of your dog, contact your veterinarian ASAP. If not controlled with medication, asthma can be deadly for dogs.
Asthma in cats, as in dogs, is believed by scientists, that is caused by an allergen that is inhaled and the body’s reaction to it. As the cat gets exposed to the allergen, the immune system creates antibodies which trigger a targeted reaction the next time the cat encounters the same allergen. This immune reaction creates inflammation which results in irritation, constriction, and swelling of the airways. Because of this, the diameter of the airway decreases and there is a build up of mucus.
The average cat with asthma is diagnosed at the age of 4 and 5. No gender preferences, both males, and females are equally susceptible to asthma.
The symptoms of asthma that a cat will present are troubled breathing, wheezing sounds, rapid and shallow breathing, coughing, breathing with an open mouth, and sometimes vomiting. These symptoms may vary in intensity depending on the type of allergen.
Canine and feline asthma are diagnosed with x-rays, CT-scans, and bronchoscopy.
What about allergies in pets?
When it comes to dogs and allergies, they suffer the most from food allergies and seasonal allergies. These two can show similar symptoms which may include severe itchiness, loss of fur, skin and ear infections. In addition to food and seasonal allergies, there are other conditions that may cause similar symptoms. That is why it is most important to take your dog to the vet to first rule out mites, fungal infections or endocrine diseases.
Many of the dogs that have food sensitivity develop seasonal allergies too. The symptoms may be skin problems (as mentioned above) or gastrointestinal with diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
The symptoms of food allergies may also include lesions all over the dog’s body or manifest in a form of an ear infection, hot spots, and scabs.
The treatment of food allergies is the most obvious: avoiding the food the causes the allergic reaction. In order to create a diet plan, first, the dog must undergo a “food testing” dietary experiment to determine which foods cause an allergic reaction. Many dogs are allergic to common products like chicken, beef, dairy products, eggs, soy, corn, and wheat. The elimination diet is the key to a healthy diet for a dog with food allergies.
When it comes to cats, their allergies are divided into 3 groups: flea allergies, food allergies and environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis).
The symptoms an allergic cat may exhibit, beside itchiness are coughing and sneezing, runny and itchy eyes, ear infections, diarrhea, vomiting, chewing of the paws and sometimes snoring.
The most common allergens that affect cats are food (elimination diet to determine which exactly), perfumes and other aerosol deodorizers, cleaning products (always make sure they are pet-friendly), environmental allergens (pollen, grass, some plants, mold, mildew), and unfortunately some cat litters.
The best way to treat allergies in cats is by removing the causing allergen. Sometimes, if the allergic reaction is severe and life-threatening you will have to contact your veterinarian ASAP so he can provide medication such as cortisone, steroids, antihistamines etc.
Happy Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month!