Dogs, like humans, can be allergic. Sometimes allergies do not arise until the dog is older, and sometimes they can occur within the first few years of life. also, like humans, dogs can develop allergies to many things throughout their lifetime.
The signs your dog might have allergies
Does your dog constantly lick at his feet or scratch at his ears? Does he have red staining on the fur around his toes? Is he itchy or have foul-smelling, red or greasy skin? Does he sometimes scratch so much in certain spots that he causes bleeding? is he often prone to ear or skin infections? Does he vomit, have diarrhea or produce excess gas after eating certain foods? If so, he is very uncomfortable and could very well be suffering from allergies. The most common symptoms of allergies include problems with the skin, ears and gastrointestinal tract. Thus, the dog can develop itchy, red rashes.
What is an allergic reaction?
An allergy is an abnormal response that a dogs immune system has towards an allergen. An allergen is an environmental substance that causes an abnormal immune response. When the dog comes in contact with the allergen, his immune system tricks itself into thinking that this allergen is going to cause harm, so it sets up an inflammatory response to try to protect the dog from it. In dogs without allergies, the immune system does not react so strongly to the environmental substance and the dog is not affected. Unfortunately, dogs with hypersensitivities or allergies to the substance initiate a chain of events in their bodies that result in signs of illness.
Making the diagnosis
Fortunately there are several ways veterinarians can diagnose allergies in dogs. First your veterinarian will perform certain tests to rule out other more common illnesses such as skin or gastrointestinal parasites, or diseases such as hypothyroidism or hyperadrenocorticism. If your dog does not have any of these other illnesses, then specific allergy testing will then be performed. Like humans, dogs can undergo skin testing for allergies. In this method, a patch of fur is shaved from the dog and many extracts are injected into the skin in small amounts. The skin is then examined with special lights to determine if any swelling or weal forms. Based on the amount of swelling that occurs, your veterinarian is able to determine if your dog is allergic to that specific allergen.
To diagnose food allergies, a food trial can also be performed. During a food trial, a dog is fed a unique protein source that he has never been exposed to before, such as venison or rabbit meat, or alternatively, a special prescription diet that is composed of hydrolyzed proteins, which are proteins so tiny that his intestinal tract will not recognize them as allergens. This special diet and nothing else must be fed to the dog for at least two months. Then, if noticeable improvements occur, especially in the dogs skin and coat condition, the old food is fed again. Then the dog is closely monitored to see if the skin conditions or diarrhea or other signs of allergies recur. If they do, it is assumed that the dog is allergic to something in his food. Although the exact substance that the dog is allergic to would not be determined with a food trial, the owner knows at least that some of the ingredients in his old food were causing allergies. A different type of food is then fed in the future.
Skin testing and food trials are indeed invasive and time-consuming ways to diagnose allergies. The other more innovative way your veterinarian can test your dog for allergies is by simply collecting a blood sample and sending it to a special laboratory that will analyze it. They will be able to determine what food types and environmental allergies your pet has. Your veterinarian will determine what test method is the best for your dog.
Treatment and care
If your dog is diagnosed with allergies, it is very important to minimize his exposure to his allergens. For example, some dogs are allergic to feathers or cigarette smoke, so it is very important to not let him use down comforters and to avoid being in areas with cigarette smoke. Some dogs have a dust mite allergy, so frequent vacuuming of the house, as well as replacing carpet with laminate or hardwood flooring is very beneficial. If your dog has an allergy to chicken, it is vital that you avoid feeding him treats or foods with chicken in the ingredients lists. Reading ingredients lists is very important. Fortunately there are many special prescription diets available from your veterinarian that are beneficial to dogs with specific food allergies.
Some dogs are actually allergic to the bacteria and yeast organisms that grow naturally on all dogs skin. Therefore, it is important to keep his coat and skin clean through frequent bathing and grooming. It is also important to bring him to your veterinarian regularly so he can be examined for skin infections and treated promptly.
The more allergens you can prevent your dog from coming into contact with, the more comfortable he will be. However, it is impossible to prevent exposure of certain allergens to your dog. Things like grass and plant pollens will be present in his environment no matter how clean the house is kept. If your dog goes outdoors, unless inside a plastic bubble, he will be in contact with plants, fungus, trees, insects and many other things he is allergic to. You have probably heard of humans with allergies who have taken allergy shots. Hyposensitization through allergy serum injections is similar to the technique of allergy shots that are used in humans with allergies. Your veterinarian can have specific allergy serum prepared for your dog. This serum is injected on a schedule that will allow his immune system to become less sensitive to the allergen. Therefore, eventually he will react less or not at all to allergens that used to cause so much immune response. Ideally, your dog will only require these serum injections once per month for 12 to 16 months, then they will be discontinued because his immune system is hyposensitized.
Usually with a special diet, reduced environmental exposure and hyposensitization injections, your pets allergic responses can be reduced by 80 to 100 percent. However, sometimes in peak allergy season, for example in the spring when there are lots of pollens and insects, his skin or respiratory tract may become irritated. Therefore, at these times your veterinarian may prescribe decongestants, antihistamines or other anti-inflammatory medications to improve comfort levels. Also, try keeping a spray bottle of water or dog skin conditioner in the fridge. Spraying it on the itchy areas of his coat is very soothing. Cool water bathing is also helpful at reducing skin inflammation because it constricts the skins blood vessels. Feeding a good quality veterinary food to your dog as well as supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in skin and keep his coat healthier. Special anti-itch shampoos and conditioners are also available from your veterinarian to help improve your dog’s comfort.
Because allergies can greatly affect the quality of your pets life, he definitely deserves the help of his veterinarian and the many treatment options now available.