Does your dog bite or lick his paws? Does he obsessively scratch his skin? Do you notice him itching only at certain times of the year? Does your dog suffer from recurring ear infections? Do you wonder if changing him to a “grain-free” or “raw” diet might be the cure for all that ails him?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, your dog may be suffering from allergies.
An allergic reaction is the result of an immune system’s over-response to a particular foreign substance or allergen. Allergens are generally harmless substances. A hypersensitive immune system will identify these foreign substances as invaders and overreact in an attempt to protect the body. The result is an allergic reaction.
Just like humans, dogs can get several types of allergies.
The most common types are:
- Skin allergies
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergies
- Atopy (Inhalant allergies)
Because the symptoms of many of these different allergies can overlap, you should consult your veterinarian if you think your dog has allergies.
Skin allergies, also known as allergic dermatitis, are the most common allergies seen in dogs. The most common symptom of an allergic reaction in dogs is itching of the skin.
This is an allergic reaction to flea bites or the saliva spread by the flea. He may also be allergic to household dust mites.
Common symptoms include itchy back or base of the tail.
These allergies are usually seasonal and are caused by changes in your dog’s environment. They can include dust, pollen, mold, grass, dirt, bugs, and plants, among other substances. If your dog suffers from environmental allergies, you may notice him itching and scratching during certain times of the year.
Dogs with skin allergies can scratch and lick at affected areas repeatedly until they get “hot spots.” These are patches of skin that are moist, warm to the touch, and cause discomfort to your dog. This can become a vicious cycle whereby the skin becomes irritated, your dog scratches and licks further irritating it, and the cycle repeats itself. If you notice these, they should be treated as soon as possible since open skin wounds can become infected. Your veterinarian may prescribe hydrocortisone (in topical form) for use on your dog’s skin to relieve hot spots, itching, and other skin problems.
Today grain-free diets, raw diets, and home-cooked diets are all the rage. If your dog doesn’t tolerate some store-bought food well, it is more likely a food sensitivity. True food allergies can trigger immediate and often life-threatening reactions just as they do in humans.
These can include:
The only way to definitively diagnose a food allergy is to feed your dog a prescription diet for a minimum of three to four months until his symptoms are alleviated. Once his allergic symptoms have cleared up, you and your vet will reintroduce foods back into your dog’s diet to determine which foods were causing the allergic reaction. This process is known as an elimination diet.
Atopy refers to (allergies caused by) inhaled particles. It is similar to humans suffering from sneezing and watery eyes during hayfever season. Dogs commonly suffer reactions to inhaled particles such as dust, pollen, and mold, which can result in auditory sneezing or even reverse sneezing. However, in dogs, these allergies rarely display themselves as respiratory symptoms. Rather, allergies to inhaled substances present as skin irritation, itchiness, flaky skin, and ear infections.
Allergy shots, a treatment known as hyposensitization, may be recommended by your vet if other treatments are not sufficient. It takes several months before you will see their effectiveness, and they are not effective in all dogs.
Common Substances that may Cause Allergic Reactions in your Pooch:
- Tree pollen
- Grass pollen
- Dust Mites
- House Mites
- Cigar or cigarette smoke
- Flea control products
- Cleaning products
- Carpet shampoos (look for items specifically labeled “Pet-Friendly”)
- Insecticidal shampoo
- Strong soaps, perfumes, or shampoos
- Plastic food and water dishes
- Pest control products (make sure to tell your exterminator that you have pets)
It is crucial that you first get a proper diagnosis by your veterinarian. Without a complete evaluation and medical history, you could spend time and money treating symptoms that never address the actual root cause. The earlier the symptoms are addressed, the more comfortable you and your pup will be. As dogs get older, allergies become more challenging to treat.
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