Each year millions of Americans suffer from allergy, a type of immune hypersensitivity which includes asthma, rhinitis and food allergy. More Americans than ever are suffering from allergies. The occurrence of allergies in our pets mirrors that which occurs in human allergies, and incidence is rising each year.
Animals, just like people, can suffer allergic reactions to a wide variety of environmental substances, or allergens. Research has shown that immunologic mechanisms underlying allergy in our companion animals (dogs, cats and horses) are essentially the same as in humans.
The word “allergy” originated from two Greek words meaning “altered reactivity.” In today’s lexicon, allergy is used to describe a condition of hypersensitivity to a substance that is otherwise considered harmless to most animals or people. The substances that trigger allergy are called allergens, and include:
- Dust mites
- Dander (animal and human)
Exposure to these substances, by physical contact, ingestion or inhalation, causes the body’s immune system to overreact and produce antibodies to attack the invading allergens. The most common manifestations of allergic disease include:
- Dermatologic symptoms (atopic dermatitis)
- Respiratory symptoms (allergic rhinitis, asthma)
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (food allergy)
- Ocular symptoms (conjunctivitis)
HERITABILITY: ALLERGIES ARE AN INHERITED TRAIT
Allergies are an inherited trait and lifelong disease, the result of an immune system imbalance. The tendency to develop allergies is a dominant genetic trait. When one parent is allergic, there’s an increased likelihood that his or her offspring will also be allergic.
Allergies are not curable, but they can be managed with immunotherapy treatment, medications that treat symptoms and avoidance.
- If neither parent is allergic, the chance of developing allergies in offspring is about 15%.
- If one parent is allergic, the risk increases to 30%.
- If both parents are allergic, the risk is greater than 60%.