Being a dog owner myself, I know exactly how it feels to see my pet suffer from any kind of illness or discomfort. You don’t just want your pet to get rid of the illness as soon as possible, but are also anxious to know what caused it. A major cause of distress among dogs can be an allergy. Most dogs are prone to skin allergies, food allergies or food intolerance, allergy due to vaccination or drugs, and inhalant allergies.
Allergies related to the skin and environmental substances are typically of two types, viz. seasonal and year-round. These allergies, caused due to various allergens, are difficult to diagnose due to similar symptoms, and therefore, a precise and accurate diagnosis of the condition is required.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis: It occurs as a result of the overreaction of the dog’s skin to certain environmental substances. Substances that could cause this type of allergy include medicines applied to the skin, rubber or wool, grass or carpets, and certain metals or chemicals.
Symptoms and Diagnosis: This type of allergy is characterized by lesions or small bumps that appear on the abdomen, back of paws, muzzle, etc. These bumps are red in color and are also known to be itchy. They can be diagnosed by physical examination. To identify the allergen, the dog is either kept under observation away from the possible allergen or subjected to the ‘patch test’.
The most effective way of treating this condition is to keep the pet away from the allergen. Antihistamines and topical shampoos can also be used to control the itching.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis: This is a common allergy among canines and it occurs as a sensitive reaction to flea bites. The antigens in the flea saliva cause this allergic reaction. It is a seasonal type of allergy.
Symptoms and Diagnosis: When dogs develop this allergy, they bite at the end of their tails and scratch frequently. Along with the presence of fleas, severe hair loss and redness at the site of the flea bite can be seen. Itching might continue for hours or days together. A method called intradermal skin testing is used for its diagnosis.
Flea allergy dermatitis can be treated by using flea control products like shampoos, powders, and sprays that don’t just kill fleas, but also prevent them from entering the dog’s skin. The dog’s environment should also be treated with products that kill or repel fleas.
Food Allergies or Food Intolerance
Accounting for around 5 – 10% of the total cases, allergies related to food are quite common among dogs. A dog is not born with food allergy. Instead, it develops as a result of hypersensitivity to certain foods. The common allergens in this type of allergy are protein-enriched foods, like beef, chicken, eggs, soy, etc.
Symptoms and Diagnosis: The symptoms of food allergy are common to that of skin allergies, i.e., itching, red or inflamed lesions, etc. Similarly, food intolerance reflects on the dog’s health in the form of symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. At times, both these symptoms can occur together. Diagnosis of food allergies is difficult, since the symptoms are similar to those of other allergies.
Usually, diagnosis involves administration of a diet called elimination diet. An elimination diet consists of proteins and carbohydrates that have not been fed to the dog over the last 12 – 16 weeks. Then, your pet is put back on its original diet, if it shows reduction or elimination of symptoms. If, after returning to the diet, the symptoms also return, then it is confirmed as a diagnosis of food allergy.
Food allergies can be managed by avoiding foods or food ingredients that cause the allergic reaction.
Inhalant Allergies or Atopy
This type of allergy is caused as a result of inhaling allergens, like dust mites, pollens, and molds. Though it is a seasonal type of allergy, it does have the tendency of developing into a year-round allergy. At times, it can be attributed to certain genetic factors.
Symptoms and Diagnosis: Atopy is characterized by severe itching, scratching, and biting in areas like the armpits, feet, groin, etc. It leads to hair loss, lesions, and redness and thus, can be easily diagnosed.
Steroids and antihistamines are used for the treatment of this allergy. Topical therapy, which includes using anti-itch shampoos, sprays, etc., is also an effective method. As with other allergies, the best way of preventing this allergy is to avoid the allergen.
Allergy to Vaccines/Medication
Sometimes, canines tend to develop allergic reactions to vaccines and medication used as stimulatives. These can be either mild or severe reactions. While mild reactions are known as urticaria, severe ones are known as anaphylaxis.
Urticaria: The symptoms for this type of allergy include skin reactions, like hives and eruptions, on the dog’s face, forehead, and armpits, which cause severe itching and swelling of skin tissues around the mouth and neck. This needs to be treated by the immediate administration of antihistamines and cortisones.
Anaphylaxis: The symptoms are characterized by sudden difficulty in breathing, seizures, diarrhea and vomiting, and swelling of the bronchial and tracheal tissues. This allergic reaction can be fatal and therefore, immediate veterinary assistance should be sought.
As dog owners, it is our responsibility to make sure our pets receive appropriate treatment if they are suffering from any condition. Being aware of the problems that your dog is likely to face, is just another step taken in providing him with the love and care that he truly deserves!