Ditch the Itch: Skin Allergies in Dogs
Allergic dermatitis, also known as atopic dermatitis or atopy, is a common skin disease in dogs. Symptoms typically develop between 18 months and 4 years of age. Rarely, a dog can experience signs of allergic dermatitis as early as 6 months of age.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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Signs of Allergic Dermatitis
- Licking paws excessively
- Mild to excessive scratching at the skin
- Ear inflammation, itchy ears, and secondary ear infections
- Hair loss, redness, or scabs on the skin
- Dandruff and poor coat condition
- Anal gland inflammation which can lead to scooting and excessive licking
- Secondary skin infections (pyoderma): red, weeping areas of skin, red spots, or pustules
Causes of Allergic Dermatitis
Skin allergies are associated with exposure to an allergen. Dogs may develop a variety of signs, described above, depending upon the severity of their allergy. The most common cause of allergies in dogs is exposure to certain environmental allergens. Some cases of allergic dermatitis are related to food allergies. Unfortunately, it’s also possible for a dog to have allergies to both environmental and food allergens at the same time.
Diagnosing and Treating Environmental Skin Allergies
The most common causes of environmental allergies are pollen, flea saliva, and dust mites. Signs can be seasonal (due to varying levels of exposure to seasonal allergens, such as tree pollen) or year-round. We can’t eliminate many of these allergens from a pets' environment. Instead, we must target our approach to managing the signs associated with exposure.
Treatment usually requires medication, which is designed to reduce the allergic response, decrease inflammation, and control the itching. Other measures, such as bathing with soothing oatmeal pet shampoo and feeding essential fatty acid supplements, may also be beneficial in long term management.
Diagnosing and Treating Food Allergies
Some cases of allergic dermatitis are related to dietary allergens. This syndrome is sometimes called cutaneous adverse food reaction (CAFR). Affected dogs may develop an allergy to a food they have been eating their whole lives. Other dogs may experience allergy symptoms suddenly, after being introduced to a new food or treat.
Your vet may recommend an elimination diet to rule out CAFR. Elimination diets typically require 6-8 weeks to complete. Close monitoring is required to ensure that your dog doesn’t eat anything other than their prescribed diet. Please follow the link to our article, which will help guide you through the process.
How Can You Help Your Dog?
If your dog has any of the signs above, it’s very important to schedule a visit with your vet. He or she will need to rule out other causes of itching, such as parasites, skin infection, or other diseases. Your vet may recommend skin scrapes or other tests to investigate the cause.
If your vet is suspicious of allergies, they may recommend a skin biopsy to gather further information. However, many cases of allergic dermatitis are treated based on clinical signs and presumptive diagnosis alone. This will depend on your pet’s history, symptoms, and the progression of their illness.
When your dog is diagnosed with allergic skin disease, it’s important to determine whether the signs are due to an environmental or food allergen. Your pet may be allergic to one or more allergens at the same time, and this can make diagnosis more complicated.
What is Allergen Specific Immunotherapy (ASIT)?
Allergen specific immunotherapy works like a vaccine against your pet’s allergies. It involves a course of injections, often given monthly, over an extended period (usually months to years).
Initially, your pet will need to have a specialized blood test to identify what he is allergic to. The results can then be used to make an individual “vaccine”, specifically tailored for your pet. This “vaccine” contains the allergens that your pet has tested positive for, and is delivered by injection in small doses. This treatment decreases the pet’s sensitivity by reducing the immune system’s response to the allergens.
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