Allergies in Dogs
If your dog is persistently chewing its feet or scratching at its face, allergy may be a possible cause. Unfortunately, there are no specific signs for allergy so you will need to rely on your pet's veterinarian to make that determination. Allergy diagnosis requires eliminating other causes for your pet's clinical signs. This involves taking a detailed history of your pet's problems, a complete physical examination, and some preliminary laboratory tests. If your pet's history and physical examination suggest that an allergy is likely, your veterinarian may recommend allergy assessment to identify the offending allergens.
The most common sign of dog allergies is itching of the skin, either localized (one area) or generalized (all over the dog). Pets are scratching, face rubbing, biting and chewing at the skin. Usual locations for signs of allergy are the flank, feet, and face, particularly around the eyes, mouth and ears, as well as areas around the base of the tail. In dogs, allergies are often the underlying cause of persistent skin disease; however, it is important to note that not all scratching is due to allergy. Conditions such as thyroid disease, fleas and certain infections, such as ringworm, can cause similar signs. Your dog may have coughing, sneezing, and/or wheezing. Sometimes there may be an associated nasal or ocular (eye) discharge. Some dogs have vomiting or diarrhea.
In the allergic state, the immune system "overreacts" to foreign substances (allergens or antigens) to which it is exposed. Allergies occur whenever the offending allergens are present. The more common allergens, such as house dust mites or mold spores, will produce signs of allergy year round, while allergies from plants that pollinate during warm months are apt to cause allergies only when they pollinate. Food allergy may occur by itself or it may be a component of an overall allergy problem. Because of the complexity of allergy diagnosis, the combination of patient history, physical examination, and allergy signs in the pet are all important in making an accurate diagnosis.
FLEA PREVENTION - The most important treatment for flea allergy is to get the dog away from all fleas. Therefore, strict flea control is the backbone of successful treatment. There are several medications for getting rid of and keeping fleas off your dog; check with your vet. You should try to keep the dog’s environment as flea-free as possible.
SOOTHE IT TOPICALLY - Calendula ointment is an herbal medication that has been successfully used to relieve the itch. Apply a thin coat twice daily to affected areas. If your pet has chewed or scratched sore spots on skin, hydrocortisone cream can be applied. Do not let the pet lick the area.
BATH - An oatmeal shampoo with cool water will ease the itchiest skin. Leave the shampoo on for 10 minutes then rinse well. With the most severe allergies, bathe your pet twice weekly.
CLEAN ENVIRONMENT - The goal is to eliminate your pet’s exposure to fleas, dust mites, molds, and fungi as much as possible. Environmental controls include frequent vacuuming and mopping all floors, washing kennel floors, and washing the pet’s bedding. If flea infestation is severe you may need commercial extermination and outdoor spraying every 2-3 weeks. All pets should be removed from premises during environmental treatments.
IMMUNOTHERAPY - In pets with more severe allergies, or in pets where allergies occur year round, specific immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be needed. Your pet's veterinarian will discuss various alternative treatments with you based on your needs and the needs of your pet.
The success of treatment depends on several factors including the overall health of your pet and a commitment to therapy. In general, the steps to successful allergy treatment involve the following: (1) trying to avoid or reduce the allergens in the environment, (2) giving recommended medications to control clinical signs and (3) identifying the specific allergens causing clinical signs in your pet early in disease, followed by allergy immunotherapy. The combination of these therapies will result in successful allergy treatment in the majority of pets.