Spring is in the air. And, along with April showers bringing May flowers, the season also brings pesky and uncomfortable allergies to some of our furry friends.
Canine allergies fall into four categories:
- Flea allergy
- Atopic allergies (atopic dermatitis, rhinitis/conjunctivitis/sinusitis, and asthma)
- Food allergies (multiple types)
- Direct contact allergy
An allergic reaction occurs when a dog’s immune system improperly recognizes a usually harmless substance entering the body and mounts an antibody response to attack the substance as if it were a threat.
While the exact cause of an allergy is unknown, it is believed heredity plays a significant role and certain breeds of dogs are afflicted more often than others.
Usually presenting as itchy skin at which the dog scratches incessantly – sometimes to the point of removing its fur – secondary infections from untreated allergies are possible. Chronic ear infections and yeast infections are common and, in addition to scratching and biting, a dog may lick its paws obsessively.
This time of year is especially difficult with dogs suffering from flea allergies and atopic allergies.
Treating Flea Allergies
Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common allergy in dogs and is caused by a reaction to one or more substances in the saliva of fleas.
Veterinary dermatologists recommend treating dogs monthly with a flea and tick medication that can be applied topically. While some owners opt to skip this treatment in colder winter months, it is usually recommended to keep your dog on this medication year-round as fleas can live through a mild winter. In addition, once a home is inhabited by fleas, it is difficult to reverse the problem and eradicate the fleas without addressing all life stages of the flea. This may require an integrated approach and the services of a professional exterminator. Prevention in this case is key.
Your veterinarian can recommend the safest and most effective flea and tick medications to fit your needs, based upon the types of pets in the home and your lifestyle
If a dog is bitten and has a reaction, his hindquarters are likely more itchy for him than the rest of his body. If left untreated, the affected skin can develop bacterial infection. In this case, your veterinarian may recommend appropriate medications to eliminate infection and to reduce the itch while getting started with anti-flea treatment.
Treating Atopic Allergies
Atopic allergies may be more difficult to pinpoint and include reactions to house dust mites, molds and grass, tree and weed pollens.
“The majority of dogs with atopic dermatitis develop these kinds of allergies between 1 and 3 years of age,” said Daniel O. Morris, DVM, MPH, DACVD, chief of Ryan Hospital’s Dermatology and Allergy Service.
There are a number of things a veterinarian will recommend to an owner to control a dog’s allergic reaction to these environmental catalysts.
First, to control a dog’s itchiness, any of several medications may be prescribed, depending upon the severity of the allergic response. This will help make your dog more comfortable and help to control the scratching and biting.
To keep your dog comfortable, a maintenance program is usually recommended.
“Allergy shots must be given year-round,” said Dr. Morris, “but symptomatic treatment can be given just during the problematic season.”
In addition, your vet may recommend wiping your dog’s paws when he comes inside from playing outdoors. This can help to remove any of the pollen, grass or mold that otherwise would have brought indoors.
Just like in humans, it may help to use air conditioning rather than keeping windows open to help keep the home environment as pollen-free as possible.
Any secondary yeast or ear infections may be addressed by regularly cleansing the areas with medicated topical solutions.
Determining the Cause
Owners have the option of having their dog tested for atopic allergies with either a blood test or an intradermal skin test. This testing is generally performed only after eliminating other types of allergies as the soul case of the problem, since it is not possible to “test” for food allergy with blood and intradermal tests.
In the blood test, a sample is drawn and screened for a range of allergens, including pollen, mold and dust.
The intradermal skin test requires a dog to be sedated and a side of his abdomen to be shaved. Next, a variety of antigens are injected into the skin. If the dog has a reaction to an injection, that specific antigen could be contributing to the allergic reaction. In some cases, an owner may choose to have her dog treated with allergy shots in an attempt to desensitize the pet.