Is your dog an obsessive licker? Do you frequently catch him scratching or biting at his own feet or coat? It can often be hard to know whether it’s allergies or related to another possible health issue.
Like humans, dogs can react to harmless allergens in the air. In fact, dogs have a more vulnerable skin barrier than humans and are even more susceptible to allergies. If not treated, excessive biting and itching of the skin may quickly result. This may lead to hotspots, redness, flakes, and even hair loss.
Dog allergy season tends to coincide with the human allergy season as well. But it's hard sometimes to decipher what the root cause could actually be.
Allergies may result in respiratory (coughing, sneezing), digestive (vomiting diarrhea), and dermatological (hotspots, rashes,) symptoms.
Redness of the skin
Flakes and crusts
Shaking of the head
Scooting and licking rear end
Licking the feet
Allergy to flea saliva (not just the presence of fleas) accounts for almost 80% of the cases seen. Year-round flea prevention helps prevent flea reactions and it is an important requirement for dogs with sensitive skin.
A dog reacting to fleas will bite and scratch themselves to the point of removing fur, particularly in the tail area. Bacterial and yeast infections may also develop in those skin abrasions.
Do not let these “hot spots” go untreated, they will likely spread and get worse.
A common type of allergy in dogs is atopy. Atopy refers to environmental allergies when a dog’s body releases excess histamine when exposed to allergens, which unfortunately prompts chronic symptoms.
Atopic allergies are the cause of about 15% of the allergies we see at East Roswell Vet Hospital.
The most common signs of atopic allergies in dogs are:
Redness inside paw pads and rashes on the body
The itching will likely start seasonally which initially is how you can distinguish between atopy and other types of allergies. Because allergies are often progressive, it’s likely your dog will eventually become itchy year-round.
If not addressed, secondary bacteria build-up issues due to chronic allergies can also find a home in your dog’s ears and eyes, which warrants additional treatment.
While gluten allergies are very rare in dogs, it is possible for your dog to have allergies to other food products. In fact, food allergies are less than 5% of the recorded allergies found in dogs.
The most common sources are:
While there are some vegetative sources of allergies, these are uncommon if not rare:
It may be difficult to determine the source and it will take time to zero in on your dog’s issue. Typically we may do allergy testing or an elimination diet, where we eliminate or substitute different food products until we isolate the cause.
In the meantime, an antihistamine or skin cream may be prescribed to ease the symptoms while diagnosing.
Secondary infections from bacteria or yeast may be mistaken for an allergy as it has some of the same symptoms. In yeast infections, in addition to the scratching and itchiness, there may be a sour odor and thickening/darkening of the skin as well. Bacterial infections are extremely itchy and typically cause an odor, redness, and flaking of the skin.
Yeast and bacteria may find a home in the ears and anal glands.
All these are termed secondary infections and many pet parents are surprised to learn that they may be a result of allergies and not the actual cause.
These secondary infections are diagnosed with skin scrapings, cotton swab samples, or even a biopsy.
Yeast and bacterial infections are treated by topical treatments (ointments, shampoo), oral or systemic treatments, or both.
The prognosis for secondary infections is generally good. Most dogs react favorably to treatment, though earlier diagnosis certainly helps clear up the condition faster.
If the underlying allergy is not identified and addressed, these infections may reoccur.
The itchiness can be almost unbearable for your pet and drive them to cause more damage by scratching the sore areas raw.
Over-the-counter treatments are very weak and a higher strength product is usually needed.
There are prescription medications that may put a quick stop to the itchiness that drives dogs to harm themselves. These medications can offer same-day relief.
However, the itchiness is a symptom. The underlying causes still need to be addressed. Once the scratching is curtailed, your dog’s skin can begin to heal.
You can initially help your allergic dog try to fight irritants in a few ways:
Statistically, year-round, prescription-strength, flea protection is essential for all pets in the household.
Wipe off your dog’s paws to remove allergens after walks. Pet grooming wipes are a quick way to remove dander and allergens when a full bath isn’t possible.
Remove excess hair, mud, and dirt from all dog beds and sleeping areas in your home. Vacuuming or small area cleaning is a great way to avoid unwanted irritants that may affect your dog’s favorite napping spaces.
Select a minimal variety diet or even a single ingredient diet (including the type of treats)
Try a medicated shampoo that can help control large areas of inflammation on the skin.
No one wants to see their furry best friend suffer. If you are diligent with recognizing the possible symptoms early, you can find the right combination of what will work to help your dog feel healthier and itch-free.
If the chronic skin itching/biting does not stop or you see the rash or redness areas continue to grow under your dog's coat, please schedule a visit with us immediately for additional advice.
Skin testing is usually performed by a board-certified veterinary dermatologist, who measures your pet's reaction to microdoses of different allergens to determine exactly which they're allergic to. Using this information, they can make a serum for allergy shots that may make your dog's response to allergens less intense over time.