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How to Help a Dog With Allergic Dermatitis

How to Help a Dog With Allergic Dermatitis

Did you know that dogs can also experience allergies and the reactions that usually accompany them? One of the most common reactions is the development of 'hot spots', also known as allergic dermatitis. In this post, our Crystal Lake vets talk about the different types of allergies affecting dogs which may result in allergic dermatitis and how it can be diagnosed and treated.

Allergies in Dogs

Unlike humans who generally suffer from a respiratory response to allergens, dogs tend to develop a skin or gastrointestinal reaction. This is because dogs have more mast cells in their skin, which release histamines and other vasoactive substances when they encounter or are exposed to allergens. Dogs may experience symptoms such as hot spots, itching and scratching, poor coat condition, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain/ discomfort, and flatulence when this occurs. If your dog has thyroid disease, his or her condition may worsen.

When dogs have allergic dermatitis or atopic (atopy) dermatitis, they have an inherited predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a usually harmless substance (allergen) that they are repeatedly exposed to.  Allergies in dogs typically begin to show up when they are between the ages of 1 and 3 years old. Because this condition is hereditary it's seen more often in Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Bulldogs, most Terriers, and Old English Sheepdogs, however, all dogs, including mixed breeds can develop allergic dermatitis.

What are the commonly seen allergies in dogs?

Here are some of the allergies that are commonly diagnosed in dogs:

Food Allergies

Food allergies can even develop in dogs who have been eating a certain brand of food for a long time. It doesn't matter if they eat the cheapest brand or the highest-quality brand; if they are allergic to any ingredient in their food, they will develop symptoms. Premium dog foods, on the other hand, may not contain as many filler ingredients, which is known to be a common allergen.

Flea Allergies

When dogs are bitten by fleas and a reaction occurs we may think that it is from the flea bite itself. It is not though, it is actually caused by a protein that can be found in the saliva of the flea. In fact, dogs who are only exposed to fleas on occasion are more likely to develop symptoms than dogs who are constantly exposed to these external parasites.

Contact & Inhalant Allergies

Dogs, like humans, can be allergic to things like mold, pollen, trees, weeds, and dust mites. Pay close attention to when the symptoms appear to determine which one your dog may be allergic to. If your dog's symptoms are seasonal, pollen may be to blame, but if they occur all year, they may be allergic to mold.

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

When a dog's immune system overreacts to the normal Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria on his skin, he develops bacterial hypersensitivity. When dogs have bacterial hypersensitivity, specific changes occur microscopically in the blood vessels of their skin. Your vet may use a bacterial culture to help diagnose this allergic reaction in dogs.

Dogs that already have other conditions such as hypothyroidism, an inhalant allergy, and/or a flea allergy are more likely to develop bacterial hypersensitivity.

What is Allergic Dermatitis in Dogs?

Allergic dermatitis is known to be one of the most common reactions experienced by dogs. When a  dog experiences “hot spots”, or allergic dermatitis, also known as atopic (atopy) dermatitis there is damage to the skin barrier. This causes their skin to become inflamed, red, dry, bumpy, and itchy.

Atopic dermatitis is an itchy skin disease in dogs. In this condition, an allergic reaction occurs when an animal inhales airborne substances (pollen, house dust) or ingests a substance they are sensitive to. The allergic reaction causes the animal to rub, lick, bite or scratch. Unlike humans, your dog or cat will not sneeze often but they will itch.

Dogs with atopic dermatitis are prone to secondary skin infections, ear infections, and yeast infections and may have sensitive skin.

Dog Allergic Dermatitis Symptoms

  • Rubbing their body on the ground or against furniture, for example.
  • Licking themselves
  • Chewing / Biting themselves
  • Scratch at their feet, flanks, ears, armpits, or groin, causing patchy or inconsistent hair loss and reddening and thickening of the skin.
  • The skin itself may be dry and crusty or oily depending upon the dog.
  • Dogs may also rub their face on the carpet; ear flaps may become red and hot. Because the wax-producing glands of the ear overproduce as a response to the allergy, they get bacterial and yeast (Malassezia ) infections of the ear.

Diagnosing Allergic or Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

The most reliable way to diagnose dogs with an allergy is to conduct an allergy test, and there are several types of these tests available. The most common is a blood test that looks for antigen-induced antibodies in a dog's blood.

There is also intradermal skin testing, which involves shaving a portion of a dog's skin in order to inject a small amount of antigen into it. After a certain period of time, the skin is examined for a small raised reaction in order to identify the allergens.

Once your dog has been diagnosed with an allergy, your vet will start developing a treatment plan.

Dog Skin Allergies Treatment

The specific treatment used for your dog's allergy will be determined by the specific allergen causing their symptoms. Your pup's treatment could consist of one or more of the following:

  • Immunotherapy (hypo-sensitization) can also be referred to as allergy shots. Hypersensitizing injections are specially manufactured for your dog's specific allergy in a lab and are given to your pup on a regular basis (frequency depends on your dog's specific case). While this method is often highly successful, it can take 6 to 12 months for there to be any visible improvement. 
  • Medicated baths with shampoos containing antimicrobial and antifungal agents as well as other ingredients can help soothe a dog's injured skin, reduce inflammation, and remove allergens.
  • Flea control regimes can help prevent and get rid of fleas. To keep fleas from thriving on your pet, your vet may recommend giving your dog flea medications.
  • Antihistamines might be able to help control your dog's symptoms, however, they don't always work. On the other hand, if antihistamines are effective, this is could be an affordable option that typically has a very low risk of side effects.
  • Hypoallergenic diets can either remove, replace, or reduce the food ingredient your dog is allergic to.
  • Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents should be used as a last resort to manage a dog's itching and scratching when the allergy season is short or to relieve extreme discomfort (and in small quantities). This method may result in increased urination, increased thirst and appetite, skin jaundice, and behavioral changes. Long-term use of this method may result in diabetes or decreased resistance to infection.
  • Controlling your dog's environment could be the best way to manage your dog's allergy if you are aware of the allergen and are able to remove it or minimize your dog's exposure to it effectively. Even if your pooch is on another medication, it is still best to reduce their exposure to the allergen if possible.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog excessively licking, chewing or biting themselves? Please, contact our Crystal Lake specialty clinic today to ask about our diagnostic services.

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