“Happiness is having a scratch for every itch,” said Ogden Nash, and probably there is no dog in this world who wouldn’t agree with this statement. Pruritus (itching) and skin problems in dogs can be caused by different causes, however, itching represents one of the most typical symptoms of dog skin allergies.
You’ll notice that your dog is scratching the ears, the face, and the armpit area frequently, or it is licking and chewing the skin in the area of the stomach and hind legs…
But, first, let’s explain the way how allergic reactions occur in the dog’s body… Probably you have witnessed a situation when an angry dog is running after a car, attacking ordinary passers-by without some reason, barking at the postman, or trying to fight with another dog during a walk.
Actually, we talk about extremely aggressive behavior in ordinary situations when there is absolutely no need of aggression. This may help you understand the way allergies occur in the body. Allergic reaction is a synonym for an extremely aggressive response of the immune system to substances from the environment which in fact are not dangerous for the health.
Different substances from the environment may be responsible for causing allergic reactions in dogs, and the most common among them are food and some food ingredients, pollens, dust and dust mites, fleas and flea control products, and different groups of medications, cigarette smoke, cleaning products etc.
These substances are called allergens and when a hypersensitive dog comes in contact with them a series of events occur in the dog’s body creating an immune response known as an allergic reaction.
The body creates specific antibodies called immunoglobulins E (IgE) against those allergens. The antibodies bind to special cells in the blood called mast cells.
When allergen links with an antibody, the mast cells which are connected to the antibodies start producing histamine, a substance that causes inflammation and is responsible for all of the symptoms typical for allergic reactions. Allergies in dogs include atopic dermatitis caused by airborne allergens from the environment, flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) caused by proteins found in the saliva of the fleas, and food allergies which can be caused by different food ingredients.
Allergic reactions may occur in dogs of any breed, in males and females at any age. The main characteristic is that dogs in most of cases react with skin problems and itching is the most typical sign. The symptoms of skin allergies in dogs include frequent scratching and chewing of the skin, hair loss, skin lesions, bad smell of the skin, and possible occurrence of the syndrome of hot spots. Keep in mind that allergies can be hereditary, so the breeding of animals with significant allergy problems is not recommended!
Airborne Allergies in Dogs
Atopic dermatitis (allergic skin disease due to environmental allergens) is the most common type of allergy in dogs. Common environmental allergens include dust mites, fleas, molds, and pollen from flowers, grasses, and trees. Itching is the most typical symptom of this airborne allergy and the intensity of scratching is individual for each animal.
Anti-itch therapies will help your dog feel better for a while but you must have in mind that this medication only eliminates the symptoms but they don’t fix the root cause of the problem. Besides the frequent scratching, you can also notice symptoms like hair loss, scaly areas, or acne-like bumps on your dog’s skin.
Foul odor from the dog’s skin can also be present in cases where bacterial skin infection has developed. German Shepherds, retrievers, brachiocephalic dogs (breeds with short noses), west highland white terriers, and Shih Tzu, are the most predisposed dog breeds to atopic dermatitis, but this disease can occur in any other dog breed including mixed-breed dogs.
The symptoms may be present seasonally or throughout the whole year, depending mostly on the fact if the suspected allergen is found indoors or outdoor. The scratching can be more pronounced in certain body areas but it can also occur all over the dog’s body. The frequent scratching and biting can cause skin lesions and wounds where secondary bacterial infections can develop.
Other signs of atopic dermatitis may include licking and chewing the paws and rubbing of the face and the eyes. This type of allergy can also cause problems with a dog’s ears and has a significant role in the development of chronic inflammation of the inner ear. This type of allergy can be managed but not cured, and long-term medical treatment and re-checks are required.
Immunotherapy is the most common method to manage the course of this disease nowadays. It is usually implemented through a series of allergy vaccines that gradually increase the amounts of the allergen in the dog’s body till the immune system becomes accustomed to these substances and its reactive responses become reduced, making the symptoms of the allergic reaction less pronounced.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)
This type of reaction is not caused by the flea itself but by the proteins coming from the flea’s saliva and feces. In most cases, this problem appears in dogs that are occasionally exposed to fleas, rather than dogs that are constantly infested.
The dog will scratch and chew the skin making skin lesions and wounds without hair that sometimes can bleed. This condition is known as the syndrome of hot spots in dogs.
Having in mind that this allergy is actually caused the flea saliva, it is recommended to bathe your dog to eliminate all traces of flea saliva and feces. Bathe your dog often, at least once a week, and always use proper shampoo because clean animals are less attractive to ectoparasites, including fleas. Have in mind that using the wrong shampoos may cause problems with the dog’s skin and coat.
Do your best to prevent the flea infestation of your dog and your home. Pick a good quality flea control product for your dog and the environment recommended by your veterinary doctor.
When it comes to skin allergies, the best way to take care of it is with a quality shampoo. Read our handy list of some of the most helpful dog allergy shampoos on the market.
Food Allergy in Dogs
Dogs may also be hypersensitive to some foods or certain food ingredients, such as beef, chicken, fish, soy, eggs, etc.. The key thing in the whole issue is locating the substance that the dog’s immune system is considering an allergen.
Speaking on this topic we have to mention the difference between food allergies (that are based on the immune response to specific nutrients) and food intolerance, which represents a digestive problem that occurs when the dog’s body doesn’t have a specific enzyme required for the digestion of certain food ingredient.
If it is suspected that the allergic reaction is caused by a substance present in the food or the dog treats an elimination diet in consultation with your veterinary doctor is recommended.
It means that your dog will be put on a 12-week exclusive prescription diet based on proteins from meat sources that your dog has never consumed before and are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. This diet can also be provided by using a commercial hypoallergenic dog food made from novel food ingredients consisting of proteins from limited sources.
If the allergy was really caused by food the symptoms will start disappearing very soon.
The next step is to gradually introduce your dog to the food he used to consume previously and try to conclude the type of food that caused the problem by noticing the first symptoms of allergic reaction which usually appear between one hour to two weeks after the allergen was ingested.
There are a few nutrition tips that can help you prevent the appearance of allergies. Always use different sources of protein in the diet of your dog and rotate them constantly in order to reduce the chances of occurrence of hypersensitivity. It has been proven that puppies fed with food reached with probiotics are less likely to develop food allergies in the future as adults.
Besides this, a significant role in allergies controls plays using fish oil in your dog’s diet as well as minced flax seed. Essential fatty acids such as omega-6 and omega-3 showed very good results in the treatment of many atopic dermatitis cases. Vitamin C addition to the dog’s diet is also recommended.
There are other kinds of allergies too that can affect your dog’s way of life. Interested to know what those are? Read ahead in our article about common dog allergies and how to treat them.
Diagnostics – the Most Important Part
You must have in mind that many skin problems require long-lasting medical treatments so the exact diagnosis plays a key role in solving dermatology issues. Remember that a good veterinarian will never rush with a diagnosis trying to impress you with his knowledge and security. He will always approach the issue very carefully and patiently and he will use all the available diagnostic methods before he sets the final diagnosis.
Your trusted vet and his ability to recognize and locate the real cause of the allergy is of the utmost importance for allergy treatment. Therefore, one of the favorite veterinarian quotes says that the diagnostic in veterinary medicine is an art that requires passion, while therapy is just a boring duty.
If you’re not sure what’s going to be involved when you get your dog tested, you can adequately prepare yourself and your pooch by reading our article on testing your dog for allergies.
After a general clinical examination of the dog, if it is necessary your veterinarian may recommend additional tests and diagnostic methods in order to determine the main cause of the allergic reaction.
These methods may include different blood tests and if it is considered that the allergic reaction is caused by a substance present in the dog’s environment, indoor or outdoor, the vet can recommend additional tests such as an intradermal allergy test, very similar to the allergy test used in the human medicine that should help to detect the root cause of the allergic reaction.
The intradermal allergy test consists of series of intradermal shots that contain samples of the most common allergens from the environment. After that, the veterinary dermatologist will simply check which substance caused the most significant skin reaction in order to detect the main cause of the immune response. Then you and your veterinarian should carefully develop a long-term treatment strategy in order of successfully deal with this complicated health condition.
A good treatment strategy will consist of plan for avoiding exposure of the dog to the allergen, providing immunotherapy (allergy vaccines), anti-itching symptomatic treatment that should help your dog feel comfortable, and a wide spectrum of antibiotic therapy.
Corticosteroid therapy has the effect is to turning off the immune system and thus stopping the allergic reaction. It is often used in combination with antihistamine therapy (the most commonly used drug is Benadryl), but however, this treatment only works for eliminating the symptoms and it doesn’t fix the root cause of the problem.
The use of these drugs is very risky and carries many side effects which could be dangerous for the dog’s health, so therefore the long-term use of this kind of therapy is not recommended unless necessary.
A good vet will certainly avoid the use of these drugs unless the case requires their use and there is no better solution available. It must be noted that corticosteroid therapy can interrupt the reproduction cycle in females (heat) so the owner must be informed of the consequences, especially if it is a breeding female.
Cyclosporines as immunosuppressive drugs are very effective in the treatment of many cases of atopic dermatitis and have fewer side effects than corticosteroid/antihistamine therapy.
If the dog makes scratching skin lesions and wounds it is necessary to apply antibiotic therapy to prevent complications in form of secondary bacterial infections of the skin. Topical antimicrobial therapy (sprays with antibacterial and antifungal effect) are often used in the treatment of atopic dermatitis.
Prevent Your Dog’s Exposure to Cigarette Smoke!
Cigarette smoke is irritating for most of dogs and some of them can also develop an allergic reaction to it. As a veterinarian by profession. but first of all, as a conscientious dog owner, I became allergic to the behavior of certain smokers which concerned that smoking in presence of pets is normal and can not be harmful.
I personally believe that there is nothing wrong if you politely ask smokers to avoid smoking in the presence of your pets just as you would ask them not to smoke in the presence of your children. At least this is a type of allergy where you really have a chance to take the allergen away of your dog.
Be up to date with your dog’s vaccination protocol and don’t allow over-vaccination of the dog as well as excessive use of medications without any important reason because these things significantly affect the state of the dog’s immune system.
Always provide good hygiene of the dog’s coat, the place where the dog resides as well as his toys, dishes and water bowls because it plays a major role in preventing of different environmental allergies.
Make sure you perform effective dust mite control because dust and dust mites represent a very common cause of allergies in dogs that live indoors. Bathe and brush the dog’s coat often and use proper products. Consult with your veterinarian when picking a shampoo for your dog, because long-term use of inappropriate products for dog bathing can cause dry skin and lead to dermatology problems.
The Flea Control Products
Make sure your dog is free of ectoparasites such as fleas and ticks. Always use proven flea control products. Indoor allergens can cause allergic reactions in dogs during the whole year and the best solution would be to identify those substances and eliminate them from your home if it is possible. Outdoor allergens usually cause problems with seasonal allergic reactions.
Make sure you brush and bathe your dog often enough, at least once a week. It is also recommended to clean your dog’s paws after returning home from walks, to make sure the dog does not convey a specific substance with him in the house from the outside.
If your dog is sensitive to pollen limit the dog’s outdoor exposure during a season when pollen counts are high. Try to eliminate indoor moisture if the dog is sensitive to fungi and mold.
Maintain hygiene and always use clean food dishes and water bowls. Reduce carpeting and upholstered furniture to prevent possible allergy to dust mites. Vacuum the dogs bedding often. It is recommended to do it at least twice a week.
Try to do everything in your power to eliminate the substances that can irritate your dog and cause allergic reactions because prevention is always a better solution. Inform your trusted veterinarian as soon as you notice that some unusual changes have appeared at your dog’s body or in his behavior.
Make sure you do everything you can for your dog to be healthy and happy because your dog absolutely deserves to feel good in his skin!