Your Dog's Allergies
By Arlo the Hound with help from Honor Tarpenning
One of the most common health concerns among dogs is allergies. Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to foreign substances. Most dogs who suffer from allergies experience contact allergies, flea allergies, or inhalant allergies. All of the above can be difficult to recognize and frustrating to handle. I hope the following information will help if your dog is experiencing allergy symptoms.
These allergies manifest in a local skin reaction. They cause skin irritation, itching, and general discomfort wherever the offending substance comes in contact with the dog's skin. Contact allergies can be caused by wool and other fabrics, chemicals (cleaning products, air fresheners, shampoos, fragrances, etc) plastics, grass, and types of rubber, among other things. The removal of the contact irritant will stop your dog’s symptoms.
If your dog is experiencing itchiness and irritated skin, is rubbing his face on the carpet or furniture, or has an irritated snout, try the following. Switch from plastic to stainless steel bowls, walk your dog on the concrete rather than in the grass, purchase hypoallergenic bedding for your dog, use enzyme cleaners rather than harsh chemicals, don’t use carpet powders or other products with added fragrance, only give your dog natural chews and toys, and keep your dog indoors when and after the lawn is mowed.
Almost all dogs react with itchiness to flea bites, but some dogs have a more severe reaction. Dogs who have flea allergies are allergic to the flea’s saliva, which is deposited in the skin when the flea bites. The itchiness, soreness, and swelling can persist for up to a week from just one flea bite. This reaction causes your dog to scratch, chew, and lick at the affected area, causing open sores and scabs that can lead to secondary bacterial infections. The first step in dealing with the problem is to get your dog some relief. You can give your dog a cool bath with aloe or eucalyptus for immediate respite. Your vet may recommend an antihistamine (like Benadryl) to control the symptoms, or in severe cases a vet may recommend corticosteroids. Antibiotics are usually used to treat secondary infections. Next, you have to completely eliminate the flea problem. Use a spot-on treatment on your dog, vacuum your house thoroughly, including non washable fabrics like your couch, and wash all fabrics (throw rugs, drapes, bedding, and dog’s bed in hot water). Learn more about The Dangers of Fleas
In humans, inhalant allergies usually cause a stuffy nose, but in dogs the most common symptom is itchy, irritated skin. Dogs with inhalant allergies experience oily, crusty, or dry skin (depending on the individual dog) hair loss, poor coat texture, sneezing, coughing, nasal and ocular discharge, lack of energy, and lack of appetite. Chronic ear infections are caused by inhalant allergies as well. In response to the allergens, glands in the dog’s ear overproduce wax, creating the perfect environment for yeast to grow and cause infections. Acral lick dermatitis also develops as a result of inhalant allergies (and other allergies as well). This is an extremely uncomfortable condition and is self propagating. The dog constantly licks the affected area (usually the paws, flanks, groin, and “armpits”) causing it to grow more irritated, thus causing more licking and more irritation. This problem can disguise seasonal allergies because, rather than subsiding after the few weeks during which the seasonal allergen is in the air, the symptoms continue as a result of the licking. An Elizabethan collar will keep your dog from licking and allow the area to heal if seasonal allergies are to blame for the initial irritation.
Inhalant allergies are most often caused by pollens, mold, mildew, and dust mites. They can be treated by limiting your dog’s time outdoors, dusting regularly (don’t forget crown molding, fan blades, mini blinds, and bookshelves), vacuuming regularly (and keeping the dog out of the room for several hours), using a dehumidifier, using the bathroom exhaust fan during and after showers, running the AC in the summer rather than leaving windows open, restricting the dog to uncarpeted rooms, washing all fabrics with which the dog comes in contact in hot water regularly, avoiding stuffed toys, avoiding house plants, keeping the grass in your yard cut short, keeping your dog's ears and eyes clean, and rinsing the dog off when he comes in after a walk or playing outside.
It is important to remember that what seems like allergy symptoms can also be indicative of a different problem altogether; so if your dog is experiencing severe discomfort, a visit to your vet is in order. Some issues that can cause similar symptoms include fungal infections, external parasites, neuropathy (inflammation of the nerves under the skin), arthritis, and psychogenic issues (e.g. stress, separation anxiety, boredom, and obsessive compulsive disorder).