How to Treat Allergies in Dogs

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Your dog is surrounded by allergens every day, from the air he breathes to the ingredients in his meals. Sensitive canines can develop itchy skin, an upset stomach or respiratory distress when exposed to certain triggers. While allergies are not curable, the condition can be managed by easing symptoms and preventing future exposure to allergens.

Types of Allergies

Direct Contact

Contact allergens enter your dog's body through the skin. They may be found in his favorite sleeping spots or on any material he has direct contact with. A visible rash and significant itching usually arises around the area of contact.

Common sources of contact allergens include:

  • Active chemicals in flea collars or topical medication
  • Toxic chemicals, such as pesticide or cleaning solutions, applied to a surface
  • Fabric components in blankets, bedding or clothes.

Contact allergies are relatively rare in dogs compared to inhaled or dietary reactions, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

Inhaled Irritants

Every breath of air is laden with microscopic particles that can cause an adverse immune reaction in your pet. Inhaled allergens tend to produce respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing and nasal discharge.

Common inhaled allergens include:

  • Pollen from grass, trees or other plants.
  • Fumes from toxic chemicals.
  • Dust mites in the home.
  • Mold and mildew spores.
  • Smoke from cigarettes or wood.

Food Sensitivity

Many dogs display a sensitivity to certain ingredients in their food. They can develop allergies to commercial dog chow or after ingesting food sold for human consumption. In the United States, the most common canine food allergies are beef, egg and chicken, according to Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Food allergies tend to produce dermal discomfort in dogs, including:

  • Pawing at the face
  • Excessive licking, especially around the paws, joints and hindquarters
  • Constant scratching leading to local hair loss and skin damage
  • Secondary skin infections from self-inflicted injury.

Flea Allergies

Aside from the itchiness and discomfort associated with any flea infestation, some unfortunate pups are particularly vulnerable to these pests. Sensitive dogs have an adverse reaction to flea saliva, causing intense itchiness and widespread hair loss. Even a few flea bites can cause symptoms across your pet's entire body if he's allergic.

Treatment Strategies

Managing allergies hinges upon identifying your dog's triggers and reducing exposure to them. While there is the possibility of desensitizing your pet to certain triggers, avoidance is the most reliable course of action.

Identifying the Culprit

Pinpointing the allergens responsible for your dog's discomfort can be a challenging task that takes months to complete. Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination to look for parasites and other potential causes of skin irritation. Skin scrapings and blood tests also are used to identify pathogens, hormonal imbalance and other disorders.

A typical allergy screening may include:

  1. Intradermal test, where various allergens are injected into the skin and monitored for adverse reactions.
  2. Radioallergosorbent test to test enzyme levels in a blood sample.
  3. Novel diet for at least eight weeks to determine if ingredients in current food are responsible. 

Warning

  • When screening for dietary allergens, it is essential that your dog only consumes the food prescribed by your veterinarian. Even a few bites of other food can render the entire trial worthless.

Relieving Symptoms

It can take weeks for the symptoms of an allergy to subside after the last exposure, so your vet may administer medication to ease your dog's discomfort as you work on a long-term solution. Cortisone can be applied to the skin or given orally for fast relief. Other immediate treatments include fish oil supplements, medicated shampoo and compounds containing cyclosporine.

Desensitization Procedure

While a permanent cure for allergies continues to elude veterinarians, desensitization procedures offer the possibility of long-term relief. This therapy requires routine injections of the allergy trigger on a weekly basis to accustom your dog's body to the irritant. While results vary significantly, the procedure produces positive results in about 50 percent of dogs.

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