Oz: Allergic reactions compromise pet’s immune system

Allergies are very common in pets, but diagnosing an immune mediated disease and allergies can be very challenging.

The human body is probably the most sophisticated machine ever invented with one of the most important parts being the immune system.

The immune system responds to chemicals released from injured cells. These chemicals attract the immune cells, that act as the body defence forces to break or isolate the causative agent. This process is called an inflammatory reaction.

Inflammation and infection are very close terms, and hence are commonly misused. The difference between inflammation and infection is that infection, by definition is the inflammation reaction in the body, resulted by the invasion of a pathogenic causative agent such as a virus, a bacteria or a parasite.

The treatment for infection is primarily done by destroying the causative pathogen. Specific medications such as antibiotics, both anti-viral and anti-fungal, are just examples of the options for specific treatments of a given infection.

However,  not all the inflammations also involve infections.

Some inflammations in the body are considered “sterile” due to the lack of a causative pathogen.

In general there are two types of sterile inflammations.

Immune mediated inflammation, is a process in which the body encounters an external object, and recognizes it as foreign, hence initiating an inflammatory reaction by the body’s immune system.

The most common example for an immune mediated process is allergies. People that have experienced any allergic reaction in their lives, will find it easy to understand and relate.

When one is allergic to a substance, even a short exposure can elicit a strong reaction that makes one feel really sick, as if it was a real disease.

When it comes to our pets, allergies are actually very common, but diagnosing an immune mediated disease and allergies can be very challenging. The symptoms of illness are often not even related to the actual cause.

The best example is chronic ear infection. Many people are not aware of the fact that their pet suffers from recurring ear infections because it is actually allergic to something.

Till the allergy can be diagnosed, and the allergenic material  eliminated (if possible), the chronic ear infections will not be resolved.

The most common allergies in pets are flea allergies. For an allergic pet, even a contact with one single flea can elicit a severe systemic reaction.

Contact allergies are an allergic reaction to any ground that the pets comes in contact with. This type of reaction usually involves the areas that come in contact with the allergen—abdomen, legs and groin.

Food allergies in pets are also very common. Strangely enough, the pet suddenly becomes allergic to its food, even if it is a food that it was eating for a long time. This type of allergy requires strict feeding of an hypoallergenic diet, with absolutely no offering of any type of other food or snacks.

Atopy is a genetic allergy to some object in the environment, often a seasonal condition.

While the best treatment for allergy is the elimination of the cause, at times the cause for the  reaction can not be identified or eliminated.

Then the treatment for the immune mediated disease will be a medication that suppresses the immune system function.

The most common type of these medications are steriod-based drugs.

Steroids are excellent in controlling the symptoms, but unfortunately they pose potential serious side effects, which makes them not ideal for long-term use. It is a treatment that should be proceeded with under a veterinarian’s close supervision.

The second type of sterile inflammation is an autoimmune disease. In this condition, the body recognizes a part of itself as foreign and attacks it. The most common autoimmune diseases in pets usually involve the skin.

Among many other autoimmune diseases, autoimmune anemia, a process in which the immune system attacks the red blood cells, intestinal involvement or a dry eye, due to the body’s immune defense against the tear glands are also quite common.

Because the source of the inflammatory reaction is actually an essential part of your pet’s body, the only treatment for these conditions is suppressing the immune system function usually by the use of steroids.

As with all medical problems, early detection greatly improves the treatment outcome and prognosis.

Keeping a close eye on your pet’s health condition, and any changes arising, may be significant in successfully controlling any illness in it.

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