Dog Care | Allergies
Dogs Suffer From Allergies Too
As with humans, allergies can affect dogs with many of similar characteristics. However, where allergies may be respiratory in humans, dogs experience more skin related issues, such as itching and scratching. Dog allergies fall in three main categories: flea allergy dermatitis, Atopy, and food allergies. Some pets can suffer from more than one allergy.
What is Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Flea Allergy Dermatitis, or FAD, otherwise known as flea bite hypersensitivity, is a skin disease caused by a reaction to flea salvia. Just a single flea bite can trigger the allergy, which causes intense itching. Dogs that suffer from FAD chew and bite their backs, necks, bellies and tails. FAD also causes “hot spots”, or small skin infections. You may find fleas and flea feces on your pet, although many dogs who have FAD have very few fleas, since they are always licking and chewing.
How is FAD Diagnosed?
Your vet will look for the typical symptoms, such as itching, biting and scratching. They may also order a skin test as FAD can resemble other conditions, like external pests (mites, lice), infections and other allergies.
How is FAD Treated?
The best way to treat FAD is to prevent fleas from attaching to your dog. Various insecticides and insect growth regulators can eliminate infestations. Your vet can recommend the right product for your pet. Daily vacuuming and occasional baths, along with cleaning their bed, can help reduce a potential flea population.
Sometimes your vet may prescribe steroids, antihistamines and essential fatty acids to relieve the “itch-scratch” cycle. Warm water baths and anti-itch shampoo/ conditioners can also help.
However, there is no cure for FAD. Your dog will always be allergic and you will continuously need to be on your guard for future problems.
What is Atopy?
Atopy, or environment allergies, are allergic reactions to airborne substances like pollen, mold, dust mites and hair/ skin fragments. It is most common in dogs, but can affect cats too. The type of Atopy depends on how much of the substance they are exposed to. Certain breeds are more susceptible to Atopy, such as Terriers, Setters, Retrievers, Dalmatians and Chinese Shar-Pei.
Itching around the face, feet, lower chest and belly are the primary symptoms. Depending on the cause, this may occur only seasonally, as with pollen, or year round with more common allergens, like mold or dust mites. “Hot spots”, other skin infections and ear problems can also develop. Hair loss can occur with pets that frequently scratch. Typically, these signs will begin to appear from ages 4 months to 7 years, with initial symptoms occurring at 1-3 years old.
How is Atopy Diagnosed?
Atopy is confirmed through elimination. The most common types of itching, like fleas, mites, lice and bacterial/ yeast infections & food allergies, must be ruled out first. Your vet may ask for a history of itching problems. Skin or blood tests may be performed to help pinpoint the issue.
How is Atopy Treated?
Atopy is a lifelong condition, with no cure. There are a number of ways to manage the condition though:
- Anti-itch therapy, including the use of pet-safe drugs, medicated shampoo and conditioner.
- Eliminating the source of the allergy from the environment, as much as possible.
- A process called Hypo sensitization, which uses a series of injections to gradually accustom your pet’s system to the problem. Although its effectiveness varies, it provides relief for around 75% of dogs with Atopy.
- If the allergy is relatively mild, you can use Elizabethan Collars, the kind that wrap around the head, to physically prevent your dog from scratching or biting themselves.
What are Food Allergies?
Food allergies occur in one or more of the ingredients in your dog’s food. The most common of these are beer and milk products, as well as wheat, corn, soya, chicken and eggs. The exact cause of food allergies is not known, sometimes a change in your dog’s immune system can cause certain ingredients to be perceived as foreign, initiating inflammation that try to fight off an “intruder”.
The most common symptoms of food allergies are itching, licking and chewing. Ear infections, as well as skin issues, are also common with food allergies. Some pets may also suffer from diarrhea and digestive problems. Symptoms can appear at any age, whether a pet has just started a new diet or has consumed the same food for years.
How are Food Allergies Diagnosed?
The only real way of diagnosing a food allergy is to put your pet on a hypoallergenic, or exclusion diet for a minimum of 8-12 week. Such a diet contains ingredients to which your dog has not been exposed to before. Because certain proteins are the most common types of food allergies, exclusion diets use proteins like fish, venison or duck, which are not usually found in pet food. Your vet can recommend typical exclusion diets.
If your dog has food allergies, there should be a large decrease in symptoms after the recommended period on the exclusion diet, provided your pet is no allergic to the new diet as well. To find out which food causes allergies, add a single portion of various proteins for 1-2 weeks at a time. Watch for allergies during these times. If any occur, remove the ingredient from their diet. Ask your vet for more info on this method.
How are Food Allergies Treated?
By carefully monitoring your dog’s diet, and using exclusion diets, you can easily treat a food allergy. In some rare cases, your vet may prescribe antihistamines or steroids.