Allergic Skin Dises in Dogs; Top Tips
Skin disease in common in dogs and very obvious to owners. It's uncomfortable for the dog & can be quite irritating to owners to live with an itchy pet. Not all skin disease is caused by allergies - parasites, infections and a few other conditions need to be ruled out before this diagnosis can be made - but allergic skin disease in dogs is very common with the main symptom being itch. If grass & pollen are involved ths can be very seasonal. If house dust mites are the main issue then this will be a year round itch. The itch often predominantly affects the face ears feet & bottom & allergies are often a reason for recurrent ear problems. We have some excellent new prescription medications to manage itch but there are things that owners can do to help.
Flea allergy is very common & it is common for dogs with dust & pollen allergies to be flea allergic as well & get a lot worse if they get flea bites. The itch can be all over but often on the back/tail base and fleas are a common cause of 'hot spots' . We actually see less hot spots since the increased availablity of good flea products.
There are some excellent flea treatments available; it is important to treat all animals in a household & if an infestation is present then the house will also need treating.In dogs that need regular bathing or swim tablets are more effective than spot ons & more environmentally friendly.
This isn't all that common but worth checking out if the itch is non seasonal. We suspect it more if the dog starts itching at less than 18months of age and/or the itch is predominantly around the face or bottom. Unfortuanately there are no reliable tests for food allergies (tests are marketed unfortunately they are unreliable. They are also not at all cheap). The only way of proving a food allergy is to conduct a proper food trial - ie feed a different protein & carbohydrate for 2-3months. This procedure is basicaly doing an experiment so the diet is extremely restrictive for the duration of the trial. It is well worth doing as your dog could be cured by a diet change. The most appropriate diet will depend on your dogs previous dietary history & your vet will help you choose something appropriate & practical. Beware over the counter diets labelled 'hypoallergenic' - that diet may not be hypoallergenic for your dog and there are no standards diets have to meat to be labelled in this way.
If the itching starts late April/May tree pollen is likely to be the main culprit. If late June then grass pollen is likely to be the cause. Trying to avoid excessive exposure by choosing where to exercise your dog may help but it is hard to totaly avoid exposure. Keeping your dog inside whilst you mow grass is adviseable. Physically rinsing or bathing your dog, especially feet & tummy can reduce exposure by washing off pollen. These actions just by being cooling & soothing may help reduce itch. Any seconday infections exacerbate itch & should be dealt with. Specific anti bacterial /anti fungals shampoos may be needed but if its just to reduce itch then any shampoo or just rinsing in water will be help.
This is commonest cause of allergic skin disease & will be present all year round. It is hard to avoid no matter how house proud you are. Sensible things to do that can help is to have the dog outside whilst you vacuum and have the dog sleep & spend most of its indoor time in uncarpeted rooms with minimum soft furnishings as carpets & duvets & cushions are where housemites like to live. So that is likely to be kitchen/ utlity room.
Unfortunately antihistamines rarely work in dogs. If they do that's great but its only 15% of dogs that they help.
Secondary infections need attending to as if present these can really wind up the itch.
Steroids are good at supressing itch but can cause other problems. Short courses can buy the dog some much needed relief and can be appropriate for seasonal allergies. We now have topical steroid sprays/ ear treatments which can be really useful to treat the itch whilst avoiding steroid side effects.
We do have some new much more targeted treatments for itch that have come on stream in the last few years.These can be better if regular treatment is needed to avoid the side effects that can be seen with longer term steroid treatment. If you feel your pet would benefit from them then please discuss this with your vet.