An anaphylactic reaction (or anaphylaxis) occurs when pets become hypersensitive and react to foreign substances invading the body, such as toxins induced through insect bites. When pets have an anaphylactic reaction it is a highly serious animal emergency that requires immediate treatment at a 24 hour veterinary clinic, as it can progress to anaphylactic shock.
Anaphylactic reactions can be caused by a range of different foreign substances invading the pet’s body and requires previous (or excessive) exposure to that substance for anaphylactic reactions to occur. The pet develops hypersensitivity to the foreign substance causing their immune system to overreact to the stimulus when they next encounter the same substance. The immune system then produces immunoglobulin that reacts with cells in the body called mast cells which release histamine. Release of histamine results in the animal developing clinical signs including hives, swollen face, vomiting, etc. These cells are then sensitised and will have a more severe reaction the next time they are exposed to the same foreign substance.
The types of foreign substances that can result in anaphylactic reactions are:
• Insect bites
• Medications (e.g. antibiotics)
• Toxins in the environment (e.g. cigarette smoke, perfume, air fresheners, etc)
• Chemicals and poisons
• Food (similar to humans, this can be any type of food that the animal is allergic to)
The clinical signs of anaphylactic reactions displayed by pets will depend on the type of exposure, the amount of foreign substance that has entered the pet’s body and the pet’s resistance to the foreign substance. As anaphylactic reactions worsen with each exposure, it is important that pet owners do everything possible in the future to prevent their pets from being exposed to the foreign substance again. Each time pets are exposed they will be at greater risk of having severe reactions and progressing to anaphylactic shock, which can result in death.
The main clinical signs or anaphylactic reactions that pet owners need to be aware of are:
• Red swellings or hives
• Swollen/puffy face
• Cyanosis (bluish tinge to the tongue and gums)
• Excessive salivating and drooling
• Vomiting and diarrhoea
• High temperature
• Respiratory distress
• Anaphylactic shock
To diagnose anaphylaxis, 24hr emergency vets will look at the clinical signs presented as well as the pet’s medical history and previous exposure to the foreign substance. Knowledge of past exposure to the foreign substance is very helpful, so it is important that pet owners inform vets if this is the case. Blood and urine tests may also be performed by veterinarians to determine the best course of treatment.
Treatment for anaphylaxis will depend on the type of foreign substance that the pet is reacting to (i.e. insect bites, food, etc.). However, the first step that 24hr vets will always take if possible is to remove any objects that may be causing the reaction (e.g. bee stingers), and stabilise the pet, in particular, ensuring that the pet is able to breathe normally as anaphylaxis can cause respiratory distress. For mild cases of anaphylactic reactions, anti-histamines and anti-inflammatory medications will need to be administered to treat the clinical signs, followed by ongoing monitoring in a 24 hour pet hospital if needed. Pets experiencing mild reactions have an excellent chance of full recovery.
For more severe cases, when pets having an anaphylactic reaction progress to a state of anaphylactic shock, it becomes a highly critical and life threatening animal emergency. Pets in anaphylactic shock need to be hospitalised in a 24 hour pet hospital and given adrenalin, IV fluid therapy and oxygen therapy (via a breathing tube). They will also require further medical treatment and ongoing close monitoring by emergency vets and nurses. However, when treated quickly and with the appropriate ongoing pet care, cases of anaphylactic shock still have a reasonable chance of recovery.
Animal Accident & Emergency have two 24 hour pet emergency centres in Melbourne, which are ideally located in Essendon and Point Cook – both with easy freeway access and ample parking. Our animal hospitals are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (including public holidays), and offer all the latest equipment and state of the art technology, as well as a 24 hour intensive care unit. Our dedicated team of emergency vets and nurses provide the highest standards of emergency vet care, critical care medicine and surgery, and are experienced in treating every vet emergency from right across Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat. So when you bring your pet to Animal Accident & Emergency you can rest assured that they will receive the best and most advanced vet care available.
If you believe your pet may be having an anaphylactic reaction, or for any veterinarian emergency, please phone one of our 24 hour animal emergency centres:
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