May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and Dr. Anna Coffin always treats more cases of dog allergies this time of year. Unlike people, who typically develop upper respiratory symptoms, dogs with allergies develop itchy skin. Affected dogs are itchy all over, but especially in their face, feet, ears, abdomen, and groin. Approximately twenty-five percent of all veterinarian visits are for skin and hair coat related problems.
Three common dog allergies:
- Flea Allergy Dermatitis: This is the most common allergy seen in dogs and cats. Pets with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) are allergic to the flea’s saliva. One flea bite can make your pet itchy for up to one month. Pets with FAD are usually itchy over the base of the tail.
- Inhalant Allergy or Atopy: This is the second most common allergy in dogs. Dogs with atopy are itchy in their face, feet, abdomen and groin. Atopy occurs because your dog’s immune system overreacts to inhaled allergens such as grass, trees, pollens, and molds.
- Food Allergy: Dogs with food allergies are itchy in their face, feet, and rear. The protein source (meat) is the most common cause of food allergies, but your dog could also be allergic to the carbohydrate source. Anna Coffin recommends switching your pet to a prescription diet for food allergies that contains a different protein and carbohydrate than your previous diet.
New research is not only helping veterinarians to understand the actual cause of dog allergies, but it is helping in the development of new treatments that will help improve the lives of itchy dogs and their owners. Here is what we have learned:
- Atopy begins when the allergen is absorbed through the skin. The dog’s immune system reacts to the allergen and then releases factors that causing inflammation and itching.
- When your dog itches, it causes damage to the skin barrier which increases the rate at which these allergies are absorbed through the skin. Scratching and damage to the skin barrier also puts your dog at risk for bacterial or fungal skin infections which increases your dog’s itchiness.
- In the past, steroids have been the treatment of choice to try and decrease the inflammation. Unfortunately, steroids have side effects, and long-term use of this drug can cause your dog to be at risk for other diseases.
- Recent research has helped us find several new treatments that are specifically targeted at blocking the inflammation that starts the itch cycle. These new treatments have no side effects.
Treatment for dog allergies can be frustrating to owners and veterinarians. Removing the cause of the allergy is the best way to help relieve your dog’s symptoms. Removing the allergen is easier to do with flea and food allergies than it is with inhalant allergies. If your dog has atopy, learn to recognize the signs and symptoms because early treatment can prevent secondary infections. Open communication with your veterinarian about these newer treatments can help your dog live a happier, healthier life. Dr. Anna Coffin and the staff of Guthrie Pet Hospital would be happy to talk to you about your dog’s allergies.