Ditch the itch

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With all the pollens in the air, you might notice yourself coughing and sneezing more, or having difficulty breathing. But did you know your dog can have allergies too?

When a dog’s immune system begins to recognize specific everyday substances as dangerous, he will have a reaction to them if they are inhaled, ingested, or come into contact with his skin. As his body tries to rid itself of the allergens, you may see a variety of skin, respiratory or digestive symptoms. It’s important that you know how to recognize allergies, so you can get your dog the help he needs.

How can you tell if your dog has allergies? Be on the lookout for some of the general symptoms.

An allergic dog may be very itchy and scratch a lot and his skin may be red, moist and/or scabbed. His ears may be itchy or he may get smelly, gunky ears and/or ear infections. His eyes may be itchy and runny, or his muzzle might swell. You might also see your dog biting at the base of his tail, licking or biting himself constantly, or chewing on his paw pads, which may also be swollen. He might sneeze frequently, or have vomiting and/or diarrhea, and may snore if his throat is inflamed. He might also have impacted or infected anal glands. Sometimes the allergies will cause secondary skin infections, which may cause hair loss, scabs, or crusting on his skin.

Just like people, dogs can be allergic to many things. Some common allergens include pollens from trees, grass and weeds, food ingredients, fleas, dust and dust mites, cigarette smoke, cleaning products and shampoos, among other things.

Food allergies are very common. Symptoms such as facial and/or stomach itchiness, paw chewing, ear infections, hot spots, anal gland issues, breathing difficulties or diarrhea and vomiting often point to a food allergy. The best way to diagnose food allergies is to work with your veterinarian and feed your dog a prescription or hydrolyzed protein diet, where a conventional protein source is broken down into molecules too small to excite the immune system. The food can be expensive though, so some people elect to feed a limited ingredient diet, containing unique proteins the dog has not previously eaten. It is vital that during the food trial your dog be given no treats, table food or flavored medication. The new diet needs to be fed for at least 12 weeks and until all the symptoms go away.  At this time you can gradually reintroduce old foods to see which ones might be causing the reaction.

The most common food allergies for dogs are corn and wheat, which are found in many foods, especially the lower priced brands. If your dog is not displaying severe symptoms, you might elect to change his food to one without these and see if there is improvement.

If your dog’s allergies are not food related, you’ll have to spend more time tracking down the problem. Flea allergies are very common.  The bite from a flea will have a minimal effect on a non-allergic dog, but allergic dogs will immediately experience itchiness, redness and swelling. The dog typically damages himself with itching and biting and you’ll often see problems along your dog’s back or at the base of his tail. A dog with flea allergies will typically worsen as the dog ages. Good flea control is critical when you have an allergic dog.

If your dog is allergic to neither food nor fleas, or if he responds positively to treatment but still has allergies, you’ll need to explore the issue in depth with your veterinarian. After a complete examination and history, your vet may be able to determine the source of the allergy. If he can’t, he will probably recommend skin or blood tests, similar to those given to people. Treatment will then depend on what is discovered. Some dogs will benefit from allergy injections, while others may be given antihistamines or other medications. In severe cases, cortisone may be needed to control the allergies, but as these drugs are strong it is critical they be used cautiously, and only when prescribed by a veterinarian.

You don’t want your best friend to be itchy or uncomfortable, so if your dog is showing signs of allergies, work with your vet to find out why. When you see him standing shiny-coated and itch-free, with his tail happily wagging, you’ll be glad you did!

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcomed to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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