December's most common Petplan claim for 2016 was allergies. This was surprising to me because the most common allergies I see in practice are due to atopy and are usually more common during pollen season (spring, summer, and fall).
Source: Press Release
Most allergies manifest themselves by inflammation of the skin, ears or gastrointestinal tract. This usually manifests itself with itchy skin or ears or gastrointestinal symptoms. In fact, itchy skin/ears is a more common manifestation of food allergies than GI signs.
The good news is that there are new treatments for itchy skin that are very effective with fewer side effects than steroids and other treatments in the past. Apoquel is a tablet that is taken daily and can be used long-term to reduce allergy symptoms. Another treatment that we are using successfully in our practice is an injectable monoclonal antibody called Cytopoint. One injection will give relief from itching for 4 - 8 weeks. Both of these medications are certainly more expensive than steroids, but for many pets, it's the only thing that has given them quick and reliable relief.
While Apoquel and Cytopoint treat the symptoms of allergies, finding what the pet is allergic to and either eliminating exposure to the allergen or desensitizing the pet's immune system to the allergen are recommended.
Ruling out a food allergy usually requires feeding a hypoallergenic diet (prescription/therapeutic diet) for a couple of months to see if the symptoms improve. If so, then feeding the old diet again usually results in a rapid return of the symptoms helping to prove the pet has food allergies. Some pet owners prefer to just continue feeding the hypoallergenic food when they see the benefit of doing so. These prescription or therapeutic diets will usually cost more than the diet you've been feeding your pet. Don't rely on an OTC so-called "hypoallergenic diet" to do a food trial because the purity of the ingredients usually cannot be guaranteed unless the food is manufactured on a dedicated line. Also, when purchasing pet insurance, make sure the policy provides at least some coverage of therapeutic diets.
Once food allergy and other common causes of itchy skin have been ruled out (parasites, etc.), it is assumed the pet has atopy (allergic to something in the environment - pollens of grasses, trees, weeds or molds. A blood test or skin test can help identify what the pet is allergic to. Then, it's usually a matter of giving an injection weekly or less often after the pet responds or daily oral drops to help decrease the pet's sensitivity to the allergens. Apoquel or Cytopoint can help give relief to the pet until the desensitization becomes effective or even during acute flare-ups while on a desensitization protocol.
Another common complication of skin allergies is secondary infection with either bacteria or yeast. These usually require treatment with antibiotics or anti-fungal medication and often topical treatment with shampoos, sprays, etc.
Since allergies aren't curable, these treatments can amount to many thousands of dollars over a pet's lifetime and I've seen these allergies manifest in a pet's first year of life. Therefore, buying pet insurance early before symptoms of allergies happen can potentially save you a lot of money. If your pet develops allergies before you purchase insurance, it will be considered a pre-existing condition and you'll be faced with having to pay for treatment out-of-pocket. You also won't be tempted to do less than the very best, but give your pet the relief needed to live a happy and healthy life.