Allergic reaction to insects

Pet Allergies

Camping season is in its prime. I am always fascinated how the nature of many of the cases I treat in my clinic is directly related to the season. With our patients running around in nature, naked, and fascinated by all things moving, insect bite allergic reactions are a familiar presentation for vets. Many of these unfortunate encounters between the family pet and the insect happen on a camping vacation, when naturally the variety of insects encountered is larger. However, a severe, acute allergic reaction can happen on the daily walk or even in the back yard.  Our desired area of living, with the hot weather and variety of greenery and fruits growing everywhere, is also popular amongst these pests. The list of the potential harmful insects is too long to mention in full but the most common pests that affect house pets are: bees, wasps, ants, biting flies and spiders.

An allergic reaction is actually the body’s defense reaction, that is out of control. When the pet’s body comes into contact with allergenic insect, the body recognizes it as a foreign material, triggering the immune system to react to this “invader”. Why this reaction goes overboard, impacting the pets in such tremendous way is still unclear.

Due to the pets nature to explore things with their nose, most of the reaction usually starts with a significant swelling of the face, usually around the muzzle, eyes and even the ears. The swelling is typically accompanied by intense itchiness and redness of the skin. The skin redness is easily noticeable in the inner side of the ears, where the skin is apparent.

The reaction may also manifest systemically, affecting the whole body. This case is known as Urticaria and it is characterized by eruption of skin lumps, initially close to the bite site, then spreading over the body. These lumps are easily visible in slick coated dogs, however may go unnoticed if covered by long hair. Beside the dramatic physical symptoms of the face swelling and the skin lumps, pet owners will easily notice the mental changes in their pet. This kind of allergic reaction is very irritating and accompanied by signs of restlessness and distress. The pet will typically rub itself intensively and cry or yelp continuously. Beside the great inconvenience to the pet, other more serious complications may arise.

Severe swelling of the face and neck may lead to breathing difficulties.  This complication is not very common, however, it is important to be aware of it because the outcome can be tragic. Brachycephalic breeds, such as Pugs, Boxers, Pekingeses, Persian cats and more, that have “squashed” faces are at most risk to be seriously impacted. These breeds have such crowded throats, they can barely breathe when healthy, and any acute allergic reaction in short-faced pets should be considered a potential emergency.

Many pets owners are not in a hurry to go to the vet. If you look online you’ll find DIY advice on these kind of reactions. I have to admit that I am not a fan of any DIY attempts when it comes to pets. Many people will go straight to human Antihistamines (Benadryl). I don’t find this medication helpful when given on its own, let alone the dose adjustments from human to pets, and the side effects that may arise with errors in that area.

Most cases of insects borne allergies are fairly easy to treat if other severe complications have not occurred. Most veterinarians will suppress the allergic reaction by using steroids either on their own or by incorporating steroids with antihistamines. In most simple cases of allergic reactions, a single treatment, or a short course over few days of treatment is sufficient in completely eliminating all the symptoms. In severe cases, where there is a potential life threatening complication, the pet may be required to be hospitalized for intensive treatment.  Luckily these cases are not the majority. In any event, if your pet is showing any of the mentioned symptoms, I strongly recommend that you seek a veterinary assessment which will restore your pet’s comfort and the peace in your house