Overview of Dealing with Dog Allergies
One of the most difficult conditions that dog owners have to deal with, are allergies and the problems that they cause in their dogs. In the spring and early summer, the calls start rolling in: “Doc, help me with my dog’s skin allergies!”
Allergies are one of the MOST frustrating problems for both the owners and the veterinarian. Owners often need to pursue several treatments before finding an effective one and can feel as though nothing really works for their dog. The treatments’ effects are temporary, the symptoms come back, or the treatment that works has substantial side effects. On the veterinarian’s side, the treatment options for skin allergies are rarely if ever ideal, and no single product works consistently and permanently for all dogs and allergies.
What are Dog Allergies?
Dog allergies are common, and they can present a chronic lifelong condition that pets and owners struggle with throughout their lives. Allergies are also not confined to a single specific problem. “Allergies” are a very general term to describe a group of skin allergies that may be caused by a multitude of factors in dogs. The medical terms commonly used by veterinarians include allergic dermatitis and cause-related terms including flea bite allergy, food allergy, and atopy.
Allergies are immune reactions to a given substance (allergen) that the body recognizes as foreign. These reactions occur following an initial exposure to the allergen, often coupled with the subsequent development of a hypersensitivity that causes itching and inflammation upon future exposures.
What are Most Common Dog Allergies?
The most common classes of allergic dermatitis seen in dogs include flea bite allergies, food allergies, and atopy. This last class is an allergic condition caused by inhaled allergens or the absorption of allergens through the skin. It is common for some dogs to have multiple allergies; they can be allergic to chicken but also to grass pollens, molds, tree pollens, and fleas. Many dogs develop multiple allergies to many different things, which can further complicate the treatment process.
What are Signs of Allergies in Dogs?
The first symptoms that owners typically see in allergic dogs are most related to skin allergies. They include scratching, licking, and chewing or biting the skin, feet, and ears.
Other signs of signs of allergies in dogs include:
- red, raised, scaly areas on the skin
- chewing at the paws
- scratching the muzzle and rubbing it on the ground or with the paws
- shaking the head
- bumps, crusts, or pus-filled vesicles on the skin
- increased skin pigmentation
- thickened skin
- loss of hair
- brownish stains around the home (caused by salivary staining)
- scratching the ears
- head shaking (suggesting an ear infection)
What are spring, summer, and fall allergies for dogs?
Some allergies in dogs can have seasonality; that is, they are more prevalent or severe during certain seasons. While symptoms differ between individuals, here are some general rules for the most common dog allergies:
- Food allergies are not seasonal in most cases because the dog has been eating the ingredient all year.
- Flea allergies can affect dogs in the spring, summer, and fall. Veterinarians sometimes see the worst flea allergies in the fall when the fleas have had all summer to multiply and the flea quantities are highest.
- Tree and grass pollen allergies can be worst in the spring.
- Mold-based allergies can be bad year-round but are worse for many dogs in the fall and winter. Some molds will develop on fallen leaves and in damp, moist basements.
- Dust mite allergies can be bad year-round but some dog owners find them worst in the winter once the house is shut up and dogs have less exposure to the outdoors.
Many dogs will begin to develop allergies between the ages of one and two years and will become allergic to more things as they age. Some dogs will appear to have seasonal allergies early in life which will become more consistent as they develop more allergies to more things. Dogs with severe allergies will eventually be itchy year-round.
Seasonally-affected dogs may not need medications during certain parts of the year. Close observation and good records may help to identify seasonal dog allergies and keep them manageable.
What causes dog allergies?
Most scientists believe that dog allergies are an inherited disease. Once a dog is diagnosed, minimizing exposure to the offending problem is one option. Treatment to control the symptoms and the body’s response to the allergens is another.