Jack Russel

Dogs and Allergies

Dogs and Allergies
By Audrey Frederick

We as humans can have a variety of allergic reactions, such as to food, pollution, dust and just about anything else imaginable. Well, our wonderful family dog can be allergic to things too and it may take us a while to finally figure it out.  Well read on because here are some tips for 

Pets that scratch a lot may be allergic to something, sometimes you may find that your pet scratches significantly only at certain times of the year. It is possible that your dog, like you, can have seasonal allergies. Dogs can be allergic not only to food, but to pollen, grasses, trees, dust, fleas, wool, tobacco smoke and even, believe it or not, to other pets.

food allergy dog
Signs of Food Allergy on Dog Skin
Source: Washington State University/Pfizer Animal Health

A dog can have an allergic reaction simply by coming into contact with whatever substance it is allergic to (wool/fleas), by inhaling the substance (smoke/pollen), and from food.

Any dog that spends most of its time scratching and possibly chewing on itself is showing signs of a possible allergy or at least a condition that requires some type of treatment. Constant scratching and chewing leads to skin disruptions and ultimately bacterial infections. Most people think the constant scratching is a problem with fleas (possible), but more than likely it is an inhalant allergy.

Another sign of a dog with a problem is a respiratory condition; coughing, sneezing/wheezing, runny nose or even runny eyes, and a third symptom may show up in the digestive system, as diarrhea or vomiting.

There are certain breeds that are more predisposed to respiratory allergic conditions than others, these dogs can suffer the same as their humans when the air is filled with grass and tree pollen, dust, mildew, ragweed and mold. Such breeds as Schnauzers, Irish Setters, Boston Terriers, Scottish Terriers, Cairn Terriers, West Highland Terriers and wire-haired Terriers are among the most common affected with air type allergic reactions.

Females for some reason are affected more so than males and it usually occurs between the ages of one to three years.

How are dogs tested for inhalant allergies?

Diagnosis is not an easy matter. Much is done on a hit and miss basis. To complicate matters a thyroid condition could even enter into the picture. In order to find the culprit and if the cause is not fairly evident, like a flea problem or even or a new food, a dog will have to go through a fairly lengthy and systematic diagnosis. There is no magic way to figure out the problem.

The last and most costly thing that can be done is the hyposensitization testing procedure using specific antigen injections. The cost is extremely high, the age of the dog needs to be considered as re-testing may be necessary in the future and the success rate runs about 50 percent, which is just about the success rate found when testing humans.

What kind of treatment can be given to help the problem?

The dog may be given Omega-3 fatty acids, gamma linoleic acid and/or certain vitamins and natural anti-inflammatories. Natural anti-inflammatory drugs and along with the vitamins and Omega-3 is usually a good first try in helping to alleviate the symptoms.

Antihistamines and other therapies do work, but often times make the dog a wee bit groggy. Any type of steroid drug should be used only as a last resort. The use of steroids, along with supplements and antihistamines will control the allergy, but will not come up with an overall treatment of the condition and it will return.

Corticosteroids reduce itching by calming the inflammation, however, there are side effects that can cause problems. Not only does it cause thirst and increased appetite, increased need to urinate and behavioral problems; it can cause diabetes, lack of resistance to infection and a susceptibility to seizures. It should be used as a last resort and only for a short time.

Shampoo therapy will work in some cases as bathing with hypoallergenic shampoos has helped many dogs. It seems that some allergens can be absorbed through the skin and frequent bathing reduces the exposure.

Bathing the dog with Epsom salts or colloidal oatmeal with also give temporary relief and will have to be done frequently. Be careful using sprays and ointments that are not recommended by your vet, they could contain harmful substances.

Antibiotics can be used when the dog has been biting, scratching and chewing on its skin. The constant irritation creates opportunities for bacteria to cause infection and the antibiotics should be used to control it.

There are vaccines available for dogs, just as there are for people, they do work, but they are slow to work and can be costly. It is said they work about 70 to 75 percent of the time.

Environmental problems can be handled as best you can; air conditioning in the house can reduce the chance of outside airborne allergens coning in. Dehumidifiers can reduce the problem of mold. An air cleaner with a HEPA filter will reduce dust and pollens within the household.

One important thing to keep in mind if you have a dog with serious eactions and you are considering breeding it, please Do Not. You will just be adding to a situation that will cause not only other dogs' a problem, the owners who love them too.

How can you handle the common allergy problems?

Fleas are not the earth shattering problem they were a few years ago, thank heaven, the invention of the flea spot on products have reduced the headaches of banishing fleas. We have for the most part rid ourselves and our pets of fleas, just check with your vet to see which product is the best for you to use on your pet.

Food is a common allergy for dogs, however, believe it or not, it is only a 10 to 20 percent common problem. A food allergy is rarely ever fatal, but it can be most annoying. The constant itching can lead to serious bacterial or fungal infection. If the allergy causes gastrointestinal problems you are faced with vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.

An allergy to the food your dog is eating will not cause both; it will cause an itching problem or a gastrointestinal problem. The most common problem is the itching, which in turn, not only makes your dog and you miserable, it creates a very unsightly looking dog.

Certain breeds such as golden retrievers, schnauzers, and West Highland White Terriers are thought of by some vets, to be the most at risk for food allergy, though this has not been proven conclusively.

Protein is generally the biggest culprit in causing a dog food allergy. The most common sources of protein are, beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs. Since we all need protein as part of our everyday diet, it is hard to eliminate it from your dog's diet. A food allergy takes time to show its ugly face, unless it is a new food that was recently added to your pet's diet.

Determining what food is causing the problem, especially if you are like me, and offer a mixed variety of foods to your pet, it will take time, patience and due diligence. It is important for the dog to be on a hypoallergenic diet for at least 4 to 6 weeks. A hypoallergenic diet consists of protein that has been predigested into very tiny bits, so the immune system does not recognize that it is there. This food can only be purchased at your vet's and is fairly expensive. Along with the special food, the whole family must be aware that the dog is not to have any other food or treats while the 4 to 6 week period is in progress. Now, this can really be a challenge, when looking into those big brown eyes.

The itching should gradually disappear while the dog is on the diet, once the itching is gone and the dog has recovered. Next comes what is considered the challenge and requires patience, you restore the dog to its original diet and watch what happens. If the itching starts again, it is back on to the special food until the itching is gone again and then you begin to add your dog's other foods, one by one.

This means that whatever your dog normally has been eating, you add it one food at a time and watch for a reaction. It will take several weeks for a reaction to show up and during that time, you do not feed the dog anything else, but the current food (no treats or table food). If it does not cause a problem, if is fairly safe to think that food is okay, then you add another of your dog's foods and go through the same process. Your vet will advise you as to the best way to do this, you also will be feeding the hypoallergenic food, too.

Treatment can also be tricky, as your dog cannot only suffer from a food allergy, but from an inhalant allergy also. The secret here is to find the culprit that is causing the problem for your dog and ultimately and hopefully end it forever. This is not a problem that you alone can solve; allergy problems need the help of your vet, so at the first sign of an itching problem, see your vet at once. Your dog will appreciate it and so will you.

While not a cure, if these problems are causing some type of skin reaction and itch, a homeopathic such as allergy itch ease might be of hellp.  These work by strengthening the body's natural ability combat potential allergens.

For more on allergy in dogs visit the Dog Health Handbook. If this article has been of benefit, you can also visit the author's web site and blog at http://www.cats-and-dogs-on-the-web.com

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