Allergies are caused by a variety of things. There are airborne causes that are inhaled, contact irritants, allergies caused by flea bites, seasonal allergies to items like rapeseed or ragwort or food allergies. The same allergies affect different animals in different ways. For instance an allergy to pollen might cause one dog to have itchy feet and another to have watery eyes. Each case is individual and may have other causes as well.
The most common effect of allergy is itching but this usually is on the skin. The skin around the eyes can be itchy and may actually disappear. The animal may rub the face along furniture or on the carpet and use the paws to scratch at the face. The most obvious effect of eye allergy is watery or discharging eyes but the muzzle and skin around the eyes may also be reddened and show hair loss.
Types of allergens — contact, inhaled or ingested?
Allergens that are inhaled or contact the skin are called atopy. Flea bite allergies are flea dermatitis and of course, food allergies are ingested. Common inhalation culprits are molds, dust mites and pollens. Obviously if your pet is allergic to tree pollen then the problem will occur and be worse in the spring. Dust mites may cause more problems in the winter when you spend more time indoors with heating switched on. Allergies to rapeseed or ragwort will be worse in the autumn.
Contact allergies can be caused by almost anything- carpet fiber, dog beds washed in certain laundry powders, even grass and contact with cats.
Food allergies are always the ones people think of first and these should not be confused with food intolerances. Intolerance cause upset tummies and there are certain foods that will upset the tummy but not cause an allergic reaction. If your pet is sick or has diarrhea after certain foods then you would avoid the same food in the future. Certain dog treats that contain dyes are another culprit that tend to cause colitis and upset rather than actual allergies.
The immune system reacts to a potential allergen like grass pollen by developing antibodies and the next time the allergen appears the antibodies go into overdrive and send signals to the immune system to produce histamines. Each time the exposure happens the reaction is worse and the animal ends up scratching to relieve the itch.
Prevention — better than cure
When you look at your dog’s eyes the pupils should be the same size and there should be a little white around the iris. There should be very little in the way of tears, no crustiness and he should be bright eyed. If you see discharge, tears, the third eyelid showing, cloudiness or squinting there could be something wrong and the best thing to do is consult your vet. Lightly trim hair away from the eyes and avoid that area when shampooing.
Unfortunately there is no real cure for allergies but there are things you can do to lessen the chances of them taking effect. Using air filters and keeping windows closed is a start against air allergens and using a vacuum frequently helps reduce dust miters. When you wash dog’s beds use only hot water and no detergents.
Cotton is better than wool for throws or bedding and the animal should be kept out of damp or dusty places. Strangely enough wooden chips in the garden can cause trouble with cedar being a culprit and the dog should be kept off freshly mown lawns. A stainless steel food bowl is best as plastic can cause reactions and any dry dog food should not be used if it has gone crumbly or dusty.
What food you need to avoid?
Many people nowadays are turning to diets that do not contain the main culprits of allergy. These are beef or red meat, wheat, gluten, grains, soya, eggs, dairy products and additives. A natural diet is now made by many worldwide manufacturers.
Completely grain free dog foods are meat based and have no grain at all whilst others use whole grains like brown rice or oats that do not contain gluten. With more meat and less grain you would probably see a greater amount of energy, less hair shedding and less allergies. The fiber to replace the grain would probably be potato or green pea.
You can opt for feeding special food that is designed for sensitive stomachs, as they eliminate many of the ingredients that are also responsible for allergies. We have a great list of food products in our article about dog foods for sensitive stomachs.
There are firms out there making whole food for dogs that are all natural and made from human standard ingredients. With no colors and additives or flavorings you are definitely cutting down on possible allergens. You should avoid giving snacks to the dog or pieces of human food from your own plate.
There are some natural treatments on offer that may well help in some case.
- Yucca extract is totally safe for both dogs and cats and can be added to the food. It is a natural anti inflammatory that does not seem to have any side effects.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acid is the other treatment often suggested and it has to be used without Omega 6 acids as this seems to lessen the effect.
- EZCHEW Omega3 Fatty Acid can be added to the dog’s food or there are EZCHEW Omega3 Fatty Acid that the pet may enjoy at the same time as helping against the allergies.
There is another firm called Bionic Biotic and they have the Omega 3 along with other ingredients like zinc. This powder is added to food and claims to stop scratching in three weeks or your money back- quite a claim. Tibetan Herbs advertise a supplement with Angelica and other natural herbs to support the immune system.
Best treatments you can use
A veterinary surgeon will normally treat an allergy with anti histamines and may well take blood samples for testing. A blood sample will normally show antibodies that prove the presence of allergens. The process can be quite involved, and you can learn about it in our article on getting your dog tested for allergies so that you and your dog will be prepared for your next vet visit. Antihistamines will normally soothe the irritants called histamines which are produced in an allergic reaction. Two weeks will normally show an improvement in the situation.
Option #1 — appropriate food diet
If the allergic is to food then a change of diet until you find one to which the dog is not allergic is required. This can take a very long time as the animal needs to be on the new diet for about two or three weeks to become used to the new regime. Then if there is still a reaction, the change has to be made again.
If the allergy is flea or parasite related then the vet will prescribe the right application to rid the dog of the culprit. The house should also be treated to make sure that reinfection cannot occur.
The dog’s eyes may need to gently washed with lukewarm water and the vet may decide to administer corticosteroids to thieve the itching and these would normally be given as eye drops.
Option #2 — steroids
The vet may well prescribe steroids either by injection or tablet and these will significantly reduce symptoms for about six weeks or so in many cases. They usually are less effective when the treatment is repeated again and again and can have side effects of increased appetite, more urination and vomiting. Spray steroids would be unlikely to be prescribed for eye conditions and with all steroids the dose is usually started high and gradually reduced rather than being suddenly stopped. The veterinary surgeon would give instructions for this.
Prednisone is the most commonly prescribed steroids.
Option #3 — immune modulators
These stop the immune system from producing histamine and because they work on this system are called modulators. This treatment can be very effective in about half of all animals treated and in some cases appears like a miracle cure. There may be some side effects like an upset tummy but it can vastly reduce the steroid intake. It is used for other conditions as well as allergies. The long title is ‘Cyclosporine(modified) generic to atopic’ but the tablets are usually just called Atopica.
There is another immune treatment that injects what your dog is allergic to under the skin. The dog is first tested extensively to find out what the culprit allergens are and then suitable injections provided. The skin test is done by injecting small amounts of possible allergens under the skin and waiting to see if there is a reaction. Blood tests are more accurate for airborne allergies. It is a very lengthy and expensive process that has a limited amount of success.
Your vet may well prescribe antibiotic as along with other treatment if he thinks there is a skin infection as well.
If you’d like to learn of the other ways you can help your dog deal with his allergies, please read out article on dog allergy treatments.
Other reasons for itchy eyes
A watery discharge from the eyes may well be an allergy but could also simply be caused by dust, a foreign body like an eyelash or a yellowish discharge could well be an infection. If the problem is in one eye only it is less likely to be an allergy.
Another reason for a yellowish discharge can be conjunctivitis and this inflammation can be caused by allergy, injury or tear duct problems. It can be a sign of many things and is best seen by the vet.
Excessive tears can also be the result of many causes, one of which is allergy. It can stain the fur and have a crusty effect.
Dry Eye is the opposite of too much water around the eye. It can be a very serious problem and very painful. It should be treated by experts immediately.
Some flat faced breeds of dogs have trouble with entropies or interned eyelid which again is painful and needs to be treated but might present the same symptom as an allergy. Entropies can occur in any breed.
Breeds with loose skin around the eyes like Bloodhounds or Cocker Spaniels may have ectropian which is an outward turning eyelid and may also present discharging eyes as a symptom. Some of these conditions may be treated with steroids or antibiotics but in some cases surgery might be the answer.
In fact if the watery, itchy or discharging eyes occurs for more than a few days you would be well advised to see the veterinary surgeon and discover the cause. An infection may well just require antibiotics and all will be well.
It may be that a combination of methods will deal with the problem and working along with the vet’s advice will be effective.