Allergies in Dogs

Signs Your Dog May Have an Allergy

If you have ever been affected by allergies, you know how miserable they can be. Similar to the allergies that people suffer from, dogs and cats can also have allergic reactions to substances that they are exposed to. An allergy is an abnormal response of the body’s immune system to a molecule that stimulates the body to attack it because the body incorrectly identifies the substance as dangerous. The offending substance is often found in pollens, weeds, grasses, foods, or insect (flea, tick, mosquito) saliva. Depending on the cause, allergies may be either seasonal or chronic. Compared to human allergies which often affect the upper respiratory tract (sneezing, runny eyes, coughing, etc), in pets, the signs more frequently involve inflammation and infection of the skin, feet, and ears. When the skin is affected we call the disease “allergic dermatitis” or “atopy”.

The most common symptoms of allergies are:

  • Itchy, red skin
  • Biting and chewing of the paws
  • Areas of hair loss
  • Rubbing the face or the anus on the ground
  • And secondary infections (ear infections, hot spots, and pimples)

Allergies in dogs and cats often present themselves as ear issues. The canals of the ear become inflamed and itchy as a reaction to the allergen. The inflammation creates warmth and moisture. Which often results in an overgrowth of yeast and bacteria. When a pet has an ear infection they begin to shake their heads, scratch at their ears and eventually develop an odor.

Although upper respiratory signs are common in people, they are not as common as in pets. If present, you will notice itchy, red eyes, a runny nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Common Causes of Allergies

Most pets who have allergies have them to several things. The most common causes of allergies are:

  • Fleas
  • Ragweed
  • Perfumes and aerosols
  • Pollens
  • Mold Spores
  • Dust Mites
  • And foods

Among foods that cause allergies, the most common allergens include chicken, beef, pork, wheat, and soy.

Diagnosing and Treating an Allergy

If the allergen can be identified, the allergy can be treated by elimination of the offending substance. A complete history and physical exam will help your veterinarian to determine the source of allergy. Often skin or blood tests are necessary to definitively ID the specific allergens. Food allergies do not have an accurate method of testing, so they must be diagnosed by performing a very strict diet trial with the elimination of certain ingredients for a minimum of 8 weeks. Medical management will depend upon the type and severity of the allergy and may include daily medications such as Apoquel, or injectable allergy treatments such as Cytopoint.

Preventative care for allergies may include bathing weekly with a medicated shampoo and daily foot soaks to reduce allergen contact with the paws. Maintaining a clean environment to reduce dust mite exposure through vacuuming and washing the bedding frequently. I also recommend a diet that avoids the previously mentioned proteins, is anti-inflammatory and is low in grains and carbohydrates. Allergies are a long-term problem with no cure, so working with your veterinarian to develop and implement an individualized plan to limit discomfort is key.

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