Allergy season is here. Not only for us; but for our canine and feline companions as well. Unlike us, our four legged friends usually show symptoms related to their skin and ears, such as scratching and liking, hair loss, inflammation, scabs, crusting, scales, and pustules. As symptoms progress, animals can do significant self-destruction to their skin; and secondary fungal and bacterial infections can develop. Other secondary issues such as food allergies can compound this problem.
Canine Allergies: Many Forms
Canine allergies can be divided into three main categories: flea allergy, food allergy, bacterial and fungal infections, and environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis). Although flea allergy and environmental allergies are most common, often dogs can have multiple allergies so a thorough evaluation by your veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist is recommended.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Flea allergy is caused by a hypersensitivity to flea bites. Dogs are exposed to flea saliva when bitten by fleas, and it doesn’t take many bites to cause an allergic reaction. Dogs with flea allergy typically develop itching over their backs, legs, bellies and tail. This condition is known as flea allergy dermatitis. The itching and allergic reaction can cause development of “hot spots” andsecondary bacterial infections.
Diagnosis is made based on the pattern of itching, which your veterinarian can help to identify. In many cases (but not all) there will be visual evidence of fleas such as flea “dirt” (flea feces appearing as black specks). However, visual evidence of fleas is not always present as fleas spend the majority of their lives “off” of the dog and fleas can be removed in the process of itching and grooming by the dog. Treatment includes preventing exposure to fleas in your pet’s environment in combination with strict flea prevention methods.
What to Watch For
Consider speaking with your veterinarian at Sierra Veterinary Clinic if you dog suffers from:
- Seasonal or non-seasonal itching, licking, scratching, rubbing
- Foot licking, face rubbing/scratching
- Rashes or patchy areas of redness
- Recurrent ear infections or head shaking
- Recurrent skin infections
- Patchy hair loss
There are many simple things that you can do to help your companion. Consistently use flea control all year round. It doesn’t freeze in our area, so fleas are with us continuously, just in lesser amounts in the winter months. For those patients that are sensitive, one fleabite can trigger a several week cycle of itching, and you may never see the flea. Usually this presents as marked itchiness and hair loss above the tail in dogs, and in cats it can be all along the back with small scabs as well. Fleas do not stay on your pet for very long. For every flea that you see on him or her, there can be up to 100 in the environment, and they multiply very quickly. When an infestation is present, then external and internal pest control in your home may be needed.
Routine bathing of your pet and ear cleaning with an ear cleaner can help to reduce pollens and also alert you to a problem in the early stages. Keeping brush low around your home will help to reduce both fleas and ticks, and can help prevent foxtails.
Treatment can involve a variety of therapies. Steroids in either an oral or injectible form may be needed to rapidly stop or reduce itching and inflammation. Antibiotics and antifungals may be needed for secondary infections. Antihistamines such as Benadryl or Claritin can be very helpful to tame the itch. Fish oil with Omega 3 fatty acids also helps to reduce inflammation. Medicated baths can also help to target specific skin issues. Allergy testing is a way to identify your companion’s specific triggers, and injections can be formulated that you can give at home to desensitize him or her.
Although food allergy is the least common allergy in dogs, it can mimic other allergies so it is important to eliminate it as a cause of itching in dogs with non-seasonal allergy symptoms. Feed a good pet store quality diet that is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, and do not routinely change the flavor or protein base of the diet. When you change foods frequently, you can potentially be exposing your pet to many different proteins, and unintentionally creating a food allergy. If food allergies are a problem for your companion, it is recommended to find a diet with only one or two components, and a formula that contains new or novel proteins for him or her. Typical mixtures might include Venison, Duck, or Sweet Potato. There are also veterinary formulas in which the proteins are broken down or hydrolyzed so the patient doesn’t react to them.
Please schedule an appointment at the earliest sign of a problem. We can create a custom program to give your companion comfort.