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When your pooch paws, chews, licks and scratches like a mad dog, it doesn’t always mean he’s suddenly come under attack by a gang of particularly mean fleas. Though a number of things can cause a dog to scratch, more often than not, consistent bouts of the “scratchies” are the direct result of some sort of allergic reaction to an offending substance in the dog’s environment.
- Dog allergies can cause extreme reactions due to allergens inhaled, ingested, or in contact with the dog’s skin, leading to various symptoms.
- Allergies in dogs can result in inflammation and can be caused by prolonged exposure to allergens such as pollen, dust, pet dander, and certain foods.
- Diagnosis of dog allergies involves a thorough examination, blood tests, and intradermal skin tests to identify the allergens, while treatment options include allergen elimination, antihistamines, immune modulating drugs, and holistic alternatives.
Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from allergies. According to Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), allergies are the most common health issue shared by cats, dogs, and humans. Allergic dermatitis, a skin allergy, ranks as the second most frequent reason for dogs to visit the veterinarian. Fortunately, it can be fairly simple to manage dog allergies. Anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids or antihistamines are readily available over the counter and can quickly block allergic reactions in most cases. Fatty acid supplementation and specialized shampoos can provide additional relief and help manage itchiness in dogs. There are a wealth of home remedy options as well.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, an allergy occurs when the immune system becomes overly sensitive to certain substances known as allergens, which can be proteins from plants, insects, animals, or foods. It’s like an exaggerated reaction of the immune system. As a lifelong dog owner, I’ve witnessed all kinds of allergic effects, ranging from itchy skin and seasonal allergies to more specific conditions like atopic dermatitis. Flea allergy dermatitis has also been a challenge, as even a single flea bite can trigger an acute allergic reaction in some dogs. I’ve learned the importance of being vigilant to address my dog’s specific needs, including potential food allergies, the presence of dust mites, and other irritants.
What Exactly Are Allergies?
Allergies come in various forms, including inhalant, contact, and bacterial. However, food allergy, flea allergy dermatitis, and environmental allergies in dogs are the most common. The allergy itself is the body’s reaction to an unknown substance or substances (called “allergens”) that the immune response system perceives as dangerous.
“Even though these allergens are common in most environments and harmless to most animals, a dog with allergies will have an extreme reaction to them,” explains the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “Allergens can be problematic when inhaled, ingested or contact a dog’s skin. As [a dog’s] body tries to rid itself of these substances, a variety of skin, digestive and respiratory symptoms may appear .”
In an article for American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) Pets Matter e-newsletter, Paul Bloom, DVM, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist, explains that such an internal attack by the dog’s immune system will also spur inflammation .
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Itching is a common symptom caused by allergies. Your dog might also suffer from a number of other allergic reactions. It’s advisable to familiarize yourself with all of the canine allergy symptoms in order to determine whether or not your dog may actually be suffering from it.
What Are The Symptoms Of Dog Allergies?
Many symptoms of dog allergies are very similar to that of human allergies. Though the list below outlines primary symptoms of pet allergies, as the ASPCA explains, “Allergic dogs may also suffer from secondary bacterial or yeast skin infections, which may cause hair loss, scabs or crusts on the skin.”
The following is a list of potential pet allergy symptoms. You may see in your dog, as described by the ASPCA:
- Red, moist, scabbed, or otherwise itchy skin
- Rashes — red, raised, swollen areas of skin
- Increased scratching (you really need your dog’s nails to be cut appropriately using best dog nail grinder or else he could cause self harm)
- Itchy ears and ear infections in dogs
- Itchy eyes
- Shaking of the head
- Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
- Paw chewing/swollen paws
- Constant licking
- Biting skin
- Pimples, scabs, bumps, welts
- Darkening and thickening of skin from excessive scratching
- Chest tightness, nasal congestion
- Loss of hair in patches or general thinning of skin
- Brown staining of feet due to saliva and excessive licking
- Sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and a rash.
Knowing that your pet’s allergy symptoms are the result of allergies should bring some sense of relief. Once the symptoms are explained, a pet parent can take the proper steps to then help their dog. But first, it’s important to determine the root cause of your dog’s allergies.
What Causes Allergies?
A little-known fact about a pet allergies is that an allergy will usually rear its ugly head only after prolonged exposure to the allergen. As Leonard D. Jonas, DVM, MS, explains in AAHA’s Pets Matter, “Allergies are always caused by something the pet has been exposed to for a long time.”
It can take months for an animal’s body to develop an allergic sensitivity to a particular product or even a particular food. A pet parent might have fed his or her dog the same food or treats for several months or even years, but a dog can still develop a food allergy despite the repeated exposure sans a reaction, says Christina Horst, DVM for AAHA’s Pets Matter.
“Wheat, soy, corn, dairy products, beef and chicken are common causes of food allergies,” Dr. Horst says. The most common in pets, however, are flea and environmental allergies over food and contact allergies.
The following is a list of some common causes of allergies according to the ASPCA:
- Tree, grass and weed pollens
- Mold spores
- Dust and house dust mites
- Pet Dander
- Cigarette smoke
- Food ingredients (e.g. beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat or soy)
- Certain prescription drugs, antibiotics, or vaccines
- Flea bites
- Flea-control products
- Cleaning products
- Insecticidal shampoo
- Rubber and plastic materials
- Contact with certain plants or chemicals away from home (learn how to keep your dog at bay with the best wireless dog fences)
- Allergies can also be a combination of some or all of the above causes, thus termed “multi-factorial”
Dog breeds that can be predisposed to having skin allergies
These breeds include the
- West Highland
- White Terrier
- German Shepherd
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Fox Terrier
- Cocker Spaniel
- Shar Pei
- British Bulldog
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Boston Terrier and Golden Retriever
Interestingly enough, Animal Wellness Magazine, in their April/May 2010 issue, had an article entitled “Forget the Steroids.” In that piece, Jean Scherwenka writes about holistic alternatives for pet allergies, including Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). According to holistic veterinarian Christine Bessent, DVM, “Liver Qi stagnation is the root cause of allergies.”
Noting that blockage of a dog’s Qi restricts proper circulation of the dog’s life energy, Dr. Bessent goes on to explain that such blockages create “heat or inflammation.” She continues to describe how this heat can then arise in various forms, one of which includes allergies.
This is an interesting take on the cause of allergies, and as more and more pet parents seek out holistic veterinarians and Eastern medicine for the management of their pet’s health, it might be a cause worth looking into. While I myself have yet to take that plunge, a lot of their methods do seem to make sense from a cursory glance.
How Are Dogs’ Allergies Diagnosed?
If you’ve noted your dog’s symptoms and have eliminated potential allergens you should bring your pet to a veterinarian. While there, your dog’s veterinarian will take a complete and detailed history of your pet’s health and perform a thorough physical examination to rule out other potential causes of your dog’s symptoms.
They may also exam skin cells microscopically to check for bacteria or yeast. If none of these reveal any information concerning your dog’s symptoms, then your vet might recommend performing blood tests to determine the cause.
If the blood tests don’t bear results, then your vet might suggest performing an Intradermal Skin Test (IDST) in which purified allergens are injected directly under the dog’s skin to see which ones your dog has a reaction to. The ASPCA explains that this is usually the “diagnostic test of choice” for most veterinary dermatologists, and it has many similarities to the allergy testing performed on humans.
“Because of the large number of possible allergens, however, your dog may need repeated IDSTs,” says VetInfo.com.
Prior to having such a test, preparations will need to take place. Before testing your pooch’s skin, all skin infections must have cleared up. “This is to ensure that dermatological symptoms are due to allergies and not infection,” says VetInfo.com. The next thing your vet will do is make sure that your dog is on a hypoallergenic diet beforehand for at least the duration of three or so months. This helps to rule out food allergies before doing the test.
All of these tests and trials will help you and your veterinarian determine the exact cause of your dog’s allergies, so that you both can more easily manage your dog’s symptoms.
Find Food Allergies In Dogs
The process of ruling out food allergies takes time in and of itself. Horst, who is a veterinarian at an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital in Colorado, tells AAHA’s Pets Matter that most veterinarians will begin with food trials.
Dr. Jonas says the hypoallergenic diets he puts his patients on have protein and carbohydrates that are new substances to the animal that they’ve never been exposed to before. “For example, he may suggest duck, venison, and potatoes, for up to 12 weeks. In case An allergy is food-related. Improvement will be noted during that time,” says Pets Matter.
The ASPCA adamantly encourages that pet parents not feed their pets anything other than what’s prescribed by their veterinarians in this special diet. Pet parents must be watchful to make sure no one slips their pooches any unexpected treats, scraps from the dinner table, or even flavored allergy medications. The diet will continue until all of your dog’s symptoms have gone, that is, if the symptoms are due to food allergies. Your vet might then have you introduce different foods into your dog’s diet one at a time, for a week at a time, to see if your pet has any reactions.
Allergic Reactions (Humans With Pet Allergies)
Many people are not familiar with dog allergies. People who have dog allergies tend to run away from dogs every time they see one. It is a very common allergy that affects millions of people around the world. The immune system identifies dogs as dangerous pathogens or bug, which causes it to produce antibodies in order to fight the threat. Dogs release proteins called allergens, which are the main cause of allergic reactions.
If you are one of the many people who suffer from pet allergies, you may be wondering how to manage a dog allergy. Dogs are one of the most common sources of animal dander, and can trigger severe allergic reactions in some people. One of the best ways to manage a dog allergy is to choose a breed that is less likely to cause problems. Some dog breeds produce more pet dander than others, so if you are allergic, it is important to do your research before deciding on a pet. Dogs that have short hair or are low-shedding are generally the best pet choices for people with pet allergies.
How Are Allergies Treated?
Depending on your dog’s level of severity, treatments of dog allergies can be an easy process or can get somewhat complicated. The easiest way to treat allergies is to eliminate any potential or confirmed allergens from your dog’s environment or diet.
How To Deal With Dog Allergies: Tips To Help You Make It Work
The ASPCA gives the following tips for managing your dog’s allergies by using conventional ways of omitting allergens from your dog’s life:
- A flea control program would be your best bet if there is a serious flea issues in your pet and the house. If your dog is an outdoor pet, he is likely to carry fleas into your home and transfer them to other pets. For the best flea control products that works for both your dog and home, speak with your veterinarian.
- If you have dust problems, make sure to clean your dog’s bed everyday. It helps to regularly vacuum all surfaces and things in the house that often gets dusty, including rugs and carpets.
- If it’s grass, have your dog avoid long or freshly cut grass that might cause contact allergies.
- Regular soothing baths rid your dog of environmental allergens, and hence relieve itching. It’s advisable to consult your vet regarding the best medicated shampoo to use for your allergic dog. The wrong product may cause drying of the skin which is not good for managing allergies.
- As previously mentioned, if you think that your dog is suffering from a food allergy, a hydrolyzed protein diet would help. This is a way to determine the allergy. To know what type of diet to give Fido, talk to your vet.
Prevention will go a long way in soothing your dog’s allergy symptoms, but there are some allergens that can’t be completely taken out of your animal’s world. Airborne allergens, for example, might be completely out of your control. In this case, your veterinarian might recommend immunotherapy, which involves injecting your pet to build its resistance to environmental allergies.
“If we do immunotherapy (allergy shots) based on blood work, that takes a while to kick in and assess if we are successful,” Horst tells Pets Matter. The article also discusses how improvement in allergies symptoms can take anywhere from “six to 12 months after allergen-specific therapy is started.”
Since allergies are a result of the immune system’s reaction to offending allergens. There’s no actual cure for allergies, but they can be managed. The following is a list of other potential treatments that will help you manage your pet’s allergies, as noted by the ASPCA and goodpuplife.com (always consult with your vet first):
- Antihistamines such as Benadryl can be used, but may only work for a small percentage of dogs with allergies.
- Histamine-blocking supplements may also help relieve your dog’s itchy skin.
- There are shampoo products that could help with skin infection, which commonly occurs in dogs with allergies. Oatmeal, aloe, and other natural ingredients are often used to treat skin allergies too.
- Use topical anti-inflammatory or antibacterial creams.
- An immune modulating drug may also be helpful.
- Treating for bacteria, yeasts and other parasites that contribute to the problem can help.
- In some severe cases, cortisone is used to control allergies; but note that this treatment is strong and should only be used as advised by a veterinary professional.
“To effectively treat an allergy, you must first address the underlying disharmony that has caused it,” Dr. Bessent tells Animal Wellness.
Though conventional treatments can be futile for some pups, it seems that holistic alternatives can gibe them their lives back. Again, if all else fails, it might not hurt to look into other alternatives to ensure your pet’s ultimate health.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you live with a dog if you are allergic?
Yes, you can live with a dog even if you have allergies. Take steps to minimize symptoms: keep the home clean, use air purifiers, establish dog-free zones, bathe and groom the dog regularly, and consider hypoallergenic breeds. Ask a doctor for advice and treatments.
Can you build up an immunity to dog allergies?
Immunotherapy, a treatment that gradually exposes you to small amounts of allergens, can help reduce sensitivity to dog allergies. However, it may not work for everyone. Consult an allergist for personalized advice.
Can your dog allergies go away?
Dog allergies can sometimes get better or even go away on their own, but it’s not guaranteed. Allergic reactions can change over time, and some people may have temporary relief. However, for many, dog allergies are long-lasting and can continue throughout life. It’s best to see an allergist for diagnosis and ways to manage the allergies effectively.