CANINE ALLERGIES - WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR DOG IS ITCHY?!?

Canine Allergies...

Coping with an itchy pet can be an extremely frustrating experience for a pet owner and can truly test the limits of the human-animal bond.  Persistent scratching, licking, head shaking, and chewing by a dog can also result in open wounds to the skin, infections (skin and ears), and pain to your pet.  The following information is intended to help provide pet owners with a basic understanding of the most common underlying causes of itching and allergies in small animals.

What are Allergies?!?...

Allergies are a common cause of skin and ear conditions in dogs.  People with allergies usually have “hay fever” (watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing) or asthma. However, dogs with allergies rarely have respiratory signs from their allergies and instead usually have red and itchy skin, hair loss, or recurring skin or ear infections.  Part of the difference is because "mast cells/allergy cells" are more densely populated in dogs' feet and ears. 

 

The 3 major types of allergies in dogs...

 

(1) Flea Allergies

Flea allergic dermatitis is the most common skin disease in dogs.  For the flea allergic patient, 100% flea control is essential for remaining symptom-free, along with treating the environment.

You may not see them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there!  Flea allergy is caused by an allergy to the flea’s saliva, and it only takes a few bites to cause a problem.  Also, an itchy dog often scratches so much that adult fleas are hard to find because they are removed from the body, along with a lot of hair near their rear/rump area.

 

(2) Food Allergies

Some pets develop hypersensitivities to foods. Various food proteins, carbohydrates, or even preservatives or dyes can all be potential food allergens. There is currently no accurate blood or skin test to determine if your dog has a food allergy. The only method of diagnosing a food allergy is by placing your dog on a carefully selected prescription or homemade "hypoallergenic" or "hydrolyzed protein" diet for 2-3 months, which is called a food trial. The diet only contains ingredients your dog has never eaten before. If the allergy signs resolve, a food challenge is performed by feeding the former diet and watching for a return of the itching. If this occurs, a diagnosis of food allergy is confirmed.

 

(3) Atopy (Seasonal Allergies) - ***THE MOST COMMON***

Atopy (seasonal allergies) is an inherited predisposition to developing skin problems from exposure to a variety of commonplace and otherwise harmless substances including the pollens of weeds, grasses and trees, as well as house dust mites and mold spores.  Diagnosis of "Atopy" is made based on the results of intradermal skin testing or by in vitro blood testing. Evaluating the results of these tests helps us compile a list of allergens for a “vaccine” to decrease the pet’s sensitivity.  However, the most realistic "diagnosis" in my experience, is observing your dog licking at his/her feet (most commonly both front feet, but can be all 4) +/- shaking his/her head or scratching at his/her ears.

 

Secondary Infections due to Primary Allergies...

Allergies are often the underlying cause of recurring skin and/or ear infections.  Bacterial and yeast infections, though secondary to the allergy, can increase your pet’s level of itching. Long-term treatment with antibiotics and anti-yeast medications is commonly required, along with medicated bathing programs (ex. antifungal shampoos).  Remember when bathing, to scrub well, and don't rinse your dog off until about 10-12 minutes of contact time.  

 

Can the itching be treated without the expense of diagnostic testing?...

Definitely.  There are many anti-allergy medications to reduce itching.  These medications do not cure allergies, but can help decrease the symptoms.  However without addressing the underlying cause of the allergy, the itching will return when the medication is stopped, unless the combination of "seasonal allergens" have dropped to a low level/are gone. Long-term use of some anti-allergy medications, such as steroids, can result in many health problems - especially, if used for many months.  Working with your veterinarian to diagnose the underlying cause of the allergy and itching may reduce the need for medications or enable your veterinarian to use more specific and targeted allergy treatments.

Allergy Summary...

Allergies are very common and can be very frustrating for you and your dog(s).  Please contact me directly at marlon@vetcarenc.com or visit www.vetcarenc.com for any additional information, or for a mobile vet visit/consult to help your itchy dog ASAP, as catching it early has enormous benefits and decreases the chances of secondary skin and ear infections.  Stopping the "Itch/Scratch Cycle" is priceless in alleviating these conditions due to allergies.

-- Dr. Marlon Sequeira     |     Raleigh Mobile Veterinary Services