In the last few years, we are recognizing pets’ allergies to foods, fleas and environmental allergens earlier and earlier. About 2 percent of dogs and cats experience flea allergies. (Of course, this is really dependent on what part of the country you and your pet live in.) Likewise with environmental allergies, if you’re noticing the pollen, it’s possible your pet is struggling with seasonal allergies, too.  Although allergens vary by region and climate, common allergic triggers can also be found in the home including dust, dander, molds, and more. 

The good news: Veterinarians have more and better options for addressing pets’ allergies than ever before. In this interview, world-wide expert in pet respiratory issues Dr. Phil Padrid, Sr. Regional Medical Director for specialty services at VCA, shares information about exciting advances that could help your pet today. 

You’ve researched asthma in both cats and humans. How did you wind up doing that? 
After graduating from veterinary school, I was finishing my residency in internal medicine at UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine when I was invited to complete a pulmonary fellowship at the UC-Davis School of Medicine. So I stayed two more years and studied lungs with the physicians. Then I got a job offer at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, where I spent 10 years researching comparative pulmonary medicine—and learned a lot about the lungs of people and cats. 

Fun fact: Cats are the only animals besides people who develop “atopic” asthma. Atopic asthma is considered an allergic disease, so allergies are right there in the mix. 
Are allergies the same in pets and people? 
Allergies in dogs and cats are a bit different. People and pets both respond to allergens by releasing histamine from mast cells. In people, these cells are particularly concentrated in the upper airway, and in response to the histamines and other active compounds released by mast cells we sneeze and cough and get a runny nose. 

In dogs, the mast cells that release histamines etc. are concentrated in the skin. So instead of sneezing and coughing, when they breathe in something they’re allergic to, they get itchy.  

If your pet seems itchy, have your veterinarian check it out. It’s important to get ahead of the scratching and licking before it causes other complications. 

What breakthroughs have been made around asthma in cats?
Asthma is a condition that can require lifelong therapy. But the options for managing it have dramatically improved. In the past, ongoing treatment would have meant regular steroid injections or pills. And people are understandably worried about side effects with this approach to administering steroids long term. 

Today we have inhalation treatments for pets. With inhalation, you don’t experience the same side effects, because the steroids don’t enter the bloodstream. So we don’t have the same worries about chronic use. 

What breakthroughs have been made around allergies in pets? 
When dogs itch, that feeling of being itchy is driven by a specific chemical messenger called interleukin-31. Researchers recently came up with an injection that blocks that message—stopping itchiness from almost any source. The product is called Cytopoint. 

Atopica is another drug that helps reduce scratching, rubbing and itching. It’s a kind of cyclosporine. Cyclosporine was originally found as a natural product of a fungus and it’s used in human medicine to help avoid rejection in transplant procedures. In a different formulation and dose, Atopica helps dogs and cats with red, itchy skin.  

Those two drugs have dramatically changed the way we treat allergies in dogs and cats. Getting ahead of the itching is so critical. Now veterinarians have a minute to figure out what’s actually causing the itchiness and deal with it. That’s so important, because the side effects of scratching cause all kinds of other trouble. 

Dr. Phil Padrid knows more about dogs and cats who sneeze and wheeze—and itch—than almost anyone in the world. He has published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters in the fields of human and veterinary pulmonary medicine—and he’s the pioneer who first researched and promoted the use of inhaled medication to treat veterinary patients with respiratory disease. Dr. Padrid is the Sr. Regional Medical Director for VCA Specialty Hospitals in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Southern California. He lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with his wife Roxi, their three pugs, a mastiff, a Siamese cat, and a horse. They take advantage of the fact that it’s sunny 310 days a year by hiking whenever possible, and they eat plenty of green and red chilies. Dr. Padrid also serves on the board of Paws and Stripes, a program that adopts dogs from shelters and trains them to be assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD. 
“Asthma is a condition that can require lifelong therapy. Today, we have inhalation treatments for pets that don't have the same side effects as steroids of the past. ”