Allergies high on the list of
common canine conditions
JUST as humans often have allergies to foods, chemicals, plants, dust, pollen or many other things, so do dogs. Allergies can be shown in many different ways (reactions or responses) such as with breathing problems, with sneezing and coughing, with rashes or inflamed areas of skin, or with vomiting and diarrhoea. Also as with allergies in humans, the number of dogs suffering allergies is increasing. Almost anything that a dog is likely to come into contact with could potentially cause an allergy, so it is understandable that the cause of an allergy is often difficult to trace. In the United States it has been estimated that about 20percent of all dogs suffer from some kind of allergy. In dogs, by far the most common form of allergy is from fleas, followed by food, contact and inhalant allergies fairly close in that order.
Flea allergy dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of fleas. When the flea bites an animal it has to inject its saliva to prevent the blood from coagulating. Just one single bite can set a sensitive dog scratching and biting and chewing, Then the inflamed area becomes infected with bacteria and what we know as a 'hot spot' is born!
One sign to look for if your dog begins to scratch excessively is a patch of black specks in the area being scratched. This is flea poo. If flea poo is visible then usually the dog has more than one flea. If you can not see any black specks that doesn't mean your dog has no fleas - it may indicate there are just one or two present. Your vet can perform an allergy test to see if your dog is allergic to flea saliva. Similar symptoms can be experienced from other external parasites such as lice or mites and your vet will be able to tell you which one is the offender.
If the test is positive for fleas then you will have to be extra careful about keeping your pet flea-free. However, be just as careful about using chemical flea preparations. Your skin-sensitive dog may be even more allergic to flea treatments. Try the natural and herbal preparations first, but remember that even herbal and natural preparations are capable of causing allergic reactions. If you have the time, there is nothing better or safer than thorough daily grooming with a flea comb. However, if you are likely to miss days regularly it is best to use a safe flea repellant as well.
Never use flea treatments on broken or infected skin - your vet may provide you with antibiotics or topical medications as necessary. A soothing aloe vera or oatmeal bath should relieve your dog's itching. Make sure you keep your dog's bed free of fleas too, and your carpet. It is no use killing the fleas on your dog but allowing them to breed freely in your house. There is no cure for flea allergy - your pet will always be allergic to fleas, so for the sake of his or her health you must always keep flea population totally under control.
Food allergy is commonly an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the pet’s food. The most common allergens are beef products, milk (lactose) products, cereals (wheat and other gluten-containing grains, corn, soya), chicken and eggs. Of course there are many more, especially in ready-made dog foods (tinned wet foods, dry kibble, even chew bones). Any food at all can cause allergy. The exact cause of a food allergy is not known.
Food allergies can display themselves as skin problems, or as digestive system problems. They usually take a while to develop. If your dog is on a ready-prepared diet then your vet can prescribe a hypoallergenic diet for your dog to try. It will take about 12 weeks to give the new food a good trial and you must remember that anything you give your dog while on the trial diet will totally negate the trial.Your dog could be allergic to the snack! Perhaps your dog is allergic to the colours, preservatives, artificial sweeteners or other additives that are in most prepared dog foods, rather than to the food itself!.
If you feed your dog on natural, home-made foods and want to continue doing so you will need to find out exactly what is causing the allergy. In this case you will have to control your own trials. Start with feeding rice only for a couple of weeks. If the symptoms clear up, add just one group of foods at a time and test for another two weeks. If the symptoms start to come back, drop that group from the diet and add the next group. On rare occasions it may be the rice that your dog is allergic to and the condition does not improve at all (rice has been established as the least likely allergenic food, but allergy to rice is still possible). In that case drop the rice and begin again with a new staple such as pasta or rolled oats or a grain such as millet, quinoa or buckwheat.
Once you have food groups organised then you can conduct the same trials on a more individual basis. For instance, you find your dog is allergic to some grains but not others - try non gluten grains and you may find it is actually gluten your dog is allergic to, rather than grain. If you have found a protein allergy, you may find on narrowing it down that the allergy is to a specific meat, or to dairy products only. You may find that an even more precise trial shows lactose allergy rather than protein allergy. Soy (non-gluten), lactose dairy products), corn (non-gluten) and gluten grains are the major allergens exposed so far.
Symptoms of food allergies in your dog may be scratching their ears, shaking the head, an itchy skin, licking and biting their back legs, rubbing their face on the carpet, inflammation in their ears, coughing and even vomiting, sneezing and diarrhoea. Your vet may prescribe antihistamines or other medication, depending on the symptoms and their severity.
Atopic or environmental allergy begins when your dog comes into contact with something that causes its skin or organs to react. There are two types of atopic allergy - contact allergy and inhalant allergy. Just how susceptible your dog is to these influences depends on your pet's genetic make-up and lifestyle (inside dogs are less likely to be worried about pollens but more likely to be affected by perfumes and air fresheners), as well as the season (for wind-borne irritants). Some breeds of dog are more susceptible than others.
Inhalant - This form of allergy is when your dog reacts to such things as flower, tree or grass pollens, molds, dust mites, household air fresheners, carpet fresheners or cleaners, perfume, hair spray and any other air pollutant that is regularly in your area. You may notice your dog chewing or licking its feet constantly, or biting and scratching other areas including back legs, groin and armpits. This is usually an indication of inhalant allergy. With this type of allergy you can help your dog by vacuuming and dusting daily so that exposure inside the house is kept to a minimum. Any mold spores or pollen grains that have come inside the house will also be kept under control.
A cool bath with aloe vera or oatmeal rinse may help your dog if a skin rash or heat areas are present. If you know what is causing the distress then remove it or stop using it (perfume or air freshener). Your vet will prescribe medication depending on the type of reaction your dog has experienced. If your dog gets regular ear problems this could also be a sign of atopic allergy. In some dogs, the staph bacteria that are present everywhere may start an allergic reaction, especially if the dog has a run-down immune system. Pyoderma could result and may require antibiotics - it can be mistaken for ringworm infection.
Contact - This is when the dog's skin reacts to something it has come in direct contact with. Often the cause will be obvious. I took my terrier down to the beach one afternoon and the next morning his belly, paws and lower legs were red and had a rash. A visit to the vet confirmed what I had realised - he had been playing about in a patch of Wandering Jew plants on the beach. It soon cleared up with some calamine lotion on the belly and an undertaking on my part to keep him away from that area of beach in future. But all contact allergies are not so easy to diagnose. The causative may be the washing powder you are using, the bed your dog sleeps on, plastic food bowls (the rash will be under the chin), wooden seats or wood chips, flea products, cleaning products, disinfectants, gardening products, grass or plants, or just anything at all that he regularly comes into contact with. As with all types your vet will prescribe according to reaction and severity.
Generally, for dogs with allergies, the hardest part of the cure is gaining a diagnosis. It may not be obvious what type of allergy your dog has, and a long period of trial and error may follow to find out. It may be helpful to keep a diary and write down every day what food your dog eats, including snacks; where he goes walking or playing, whether or not it is pollen season, whether he sneezes or wheezes in a particular area of the house or yard more than other areas, whether he vomits or has diarrhoea after any particular food, and as many other details as possible.
After about a month you may see a pattern starting to emerge that will enable you to keep the offending allergen away from your dog. Allergies are often inherited, just as they are with humans. Blood testing for allergens is a quicker (but not guaranteed) way to identify the offender, and a course of anti-allergy vaccine may help temporarily (but again not all dogs experience freedom from allergy after the course) but whatever happens you will have to be careful for the dog's lifetime. You may want to talk to your vet about blood testing for allergens and desensitizing as improved treatments are always in the pipeline.
Rashes and skin problems should be cleared up before they become infected or septic. Food or other allergies that cause vomiting or diarrhoea need fast action as your dog could go into shock if the allergy is severe, or become dehydrated if left and the organs may start to be affected. Whatever type of allergy your dog displays it is best to take him to the vet sooner rather than later - a few spots are easier to heal than a mass of infected sores, and your dog will be so much more comfortable. - Liz Peters