Allergies and Your Dog
Is your dog itchy, but you?re not seeing fleas? Is he or she uncomfortable or creating sores and hot spots? Does he or she suffer from chronic hair loss or ear infections? If, so the problem may very well be allergies, and there are a number of things we can do to make him or her (and you) a lot happier!
What causes allergies in dogs?
While there are any number of allergens in dogs (and cats), they most commonly fall into three categories, flea, food and environmental.
Flea allergies happen when a dog is bitten by a flea. The allergy is to the saliva of the flea rather than flea itself. Because of this, dogs with even a low flea burden can be intensely itchy. For this reason we recommend that all dogs with allergies receive flea medication monthly, even if you are not seeing fleas.
Food allergies are generally felt to be to the protein component of the food, i.e. the beef or chicken or other meat content. It is rare that food allergies are caused by grains and they are not caused by byproducts. Food allergies tend to be constant, year round and may affect the feet and ears more than other areas, although any part of the body may be affected. Food allergies can also manifest as gastrointestinal upset (chronic vomiting and diarrhea).
Environmental allergies are allergies to inhaled allergens. These may include indoor allergens such as mold and dust mites or outdoor allergens such as pollens and grasses. Anything that makes people get respiratory allergies can make our pets very itchy. Because many respiratory allergens, particularly outdoor ones are seasonal, environmental allergies are often cyclical in pets.
How do we diagnose allergies?
Fleas are detected on physical exam, along with characteristic signs of infection.
Food allergies are only truly diagnosed by an elimination diet. This involves giving the dog a diet with either protein that is hydrolyzed (broken down into parts so small that the body does not recognize it as protein) or novel. Novel ingredients are ingredients the dog has never seen before, and therefore cannot be allergic to. For 8-12 weeks the dog may eat nothing else, including treats, human food and flavored medications. If the itching resolves, it confirms food allergy. To then determine the specific allergy, 1 protein at a time is added back into the dog?s diet to see if the allergy recurs. Some owners elect simply to stay on the allergy diets.
Environmental allergies are diagnosed in one of two ways. A dermatologist may do intradermal skin testing; much like is done in human medicine. The other option is blood testing, screening for regional allergen antibodies in the blood. This is offered at Claremont Animal Hospital.
How do we treat allergies?
Flea allergies are treated with flea control and steroids. Any secondary infection is treated with antibiotics.
Food allergies are treated with diet control. The food we use to diagnose the pet may also be used as a treatment.
Environmental allergies are treated in several manners. Dogs that itch seasonally may only need occasional steroid or antihistamine treatment to treat the symptoms. Dogs that are consistently itchy require a different strategy. Options include topical steroid shampoos and sprays, pulse dosing with steroids and allergy vaccines tailor made to the individual patient. There are also far safer long term allergy medications than steroids on the market with new ones expected in 2015.
What should I do if I think my dog has allergies?
Call and make an appointment for your dog to discuss his or her individual concerns and triggers. It is helpful for us if you can bring a list of foods the dog is on or has been on to the appointment as well as if you have an idea of how long the dog has been itchy or when this may have happened before.
What can I expect at the appointment?
One of our veterinarians will discuss your pet?s current condition with you. They will try to eliminate any other causes of skin conditions such as mange or thyroid conditions based on history and physical exam. They will then discuss a treatment plan that fits your pet?s needs as well at their lifestyle and your budget.
Allergies can be frustrating for both pets and owners, but we?re here to help you with them and can make both of your lives a lot better!