By: Debbie Reynolds, DVM
Let's begin here by talking about the word "allergies". If your dog has allergies, or if you have owned one, you know about the symptoms. Many people are not aware of how different dog allergies are from human allergies. As a veterinarian, I often am called on for an "itchy dog" appointment. They are very surprised to find out that dog allergies = itchy dog. You know, the dog that goes thump-thump-thump in the night. The dog that keeps you up licking and chewing on their feet while you try to sleep.
The medical term for dog allergies is "atopic dermatitis" or "canine atopy". Using these words as search terms on the internet will yield you much better results. I trust the website "Veterinary Partners" and recommend them quite often to my clients who like to research.
The subject matter of this particular blog is to help you realize if your dog may be genetically predisposed to allergies. This way, you can practice intervention early, or be vigilant in watching for the symptoms. The breeds listed below are commonly known to have allergies, and different breeds are more affected in geographical locations of the United States.
American Hairless Terrier
American Pit Bull Terrier
West Highland White Terrier
(White dogs of any breed)
CANINE ATOPY is for life. Once you have it, it never goes away. It is managed.
If you have one of the above breeds I would recommend that you look into pet insurance. It is a good idea anyway, and will be a huge help financially throughout the life of your dog and you can choose whatever treatment you deem best without cost playing a factor in your decision. We use Nationwide Pet Insurance at our practice, but there are hundreds of pet insurance companies to choose from. One of the great things is that you can use any DVM anywhere with any of the pet insurances.
What symptoms should I watch for? The primary symptom we see is paw licking or chewing on any or all four paws. Itching can be anywhere and everywhere on their body - tail-based, underarms, flanks, back, head, chest, literally - anywhere. Sometimes they itch and their coat looks healthy. Sometimes they have rashes, crusty areas, flaky skin and even bald spots. Ear infections and puffy or runny eyes sometimes accompany this itch. It is a pretty miserable condition for the dog. It is the itch that you can't scratch away.
What causes canine allergies? There are three categories of allergens that can make your dog itch: (1) Environmental (2) Insects and (3) Food.
Environmental allergens are things such as grasses, trees, pollens, or anything your dog is in contact with in the environment. I've had some patients, after testing, come back allergic to human dander! One of my patients was even allergic to cat dander.
Insects commonly are fleas and household dust mites. This doesn't mean your dog is infested with fleas or you have a dusty house. Just one flea bite can set off a nasty hypersensitivity reaction to make your dog itch for weeks! It is actually the flea saliva that they react to and it just takes one bite to do it. Household mites are everywhere, even in the cleanest homes - some dogs just react to them when many do not.
Food can also cause an allergic reaction. There has been a trend towards grain free foods recently, but I find that pet owners still end up feeding grains to their pets, unknowingly, in the form of treats. Pizza crust, oddly enough, is also a commonly given treat.
How do you treat allergies in dogs? Ideally, you could alleviate your dog's allergy by avoiding the allergen. This is difficult because most people don't know what the allergen is and even if they do it is usually impossible to avoid. So, we as veterinarians do the same thing that people with allergies do. Give "allergy medicine". For dogs this is usually steroids or other pharmaceuticals. But there is a way to avoid allergy pills for life.
Immunotherapy is the gold standard for treatment of allergy dogs. This is done by finding out what your dog is allergic to. You can inject the allergens into the skin, find out what is causing the allergies, then make a vaccine for it. This is normally done at a specialist - a veterinary dermatologist (this is why insurance is a great idea). You inject the vaccine at tapering doses and then your dog builds up immunity to the allergens and you don't have to give medicine for life.
Prednisone is not something you want your dog to take for any length of time due to the side effects which include increased thirst, increased hunger, increased urinations or bloating. In some cases it can even create diseases such as Cushing's and liver disease. Newer medications such as Apoquel and Atopica are effective with less side effects but are expensive to take, especially for life. Most dogs are diagnosed at age 1-2 so they have many years to go.
What can I do to help? What we like to do at our practice is start hitting the supplements hard if we have a breed that is predisposed to allergies. Here are some ideas if you have an allergy dog or a genetically predisposed breed:
1. Shampoo at least once weekly. You need to wash the pollens and dander off of your dog's fur. Especially if you have a long haired dog. At LEAST once weekly. Use a non medicated soothing shampoo such as oatmeal or eucalyptus. If your dog is itchy, don't give a warm bath. Heat makes the itch worse so use a slightly cool temperature.
2. Omega 3 Fatty Acids added to the diet daily is an amazing way to supplement your dog's itchy skin. We use Grizzly Salmon Oil and you can read about all the amazing benefits of this oil on our prior blog post here.
3. Dermoscent 6 is a topical essential oil that is applied in one spot on the skin once weekly to help re-establish the broken skin barrier. It helps to keep the allergens from affecting the skin.
4. Boost in a Bottle essential oil is used topically 2-3 times weekly. There is a blend of 22 essential oils to make this an effective way to replace steroids and medications. You can read about all of it's benefits on our prior blog post here.
5. Raw diets are incredibly helpful in helping keep your dog's immune system at its top level. This food is made for your carivorous dog and can enhance their health in many ways and make them thrive! We use The Honest Kitchen and Primal diets, but there are many to choose from. Raw diets are so easy these days - buy a bag - measure the amount- and add water.
The Blessed Pet Shop can be your one stop shop for any and all of these products.
Whether you choose immunotherapy, medication, or want to strictly try holistic support, I would encourage you to try any or all of the above. All of these have to be used on a consistent basis and it can take 4-6 weeks to see results, so hang in there.
There is not much more frustrating to you, me and the poor dog than allergies. As a veteriarian, I hate to diagnose canine atopy. Since this condition is for life, we will be life long partners with the patient and their families to help them get through this. Often, the medications become less and less effective over time. It a difficult and often miserable condition to be in for everyone involved.
However, don't be disheartened if your dog has allergies or if you have one of these breeds. They can be successfully managed for life with persistent care. You can have a happy, healthy dog, it just requires family support. Please consider starting supplements if you have one of these breeds or if you have noticed that your dog may have some of the symptoms.
If you have any questions - please comment below!