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How to Help a Dog with Allergic Dermatitis

Our team at Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital often sees dogs with "hot spots" or allergic dermatitis (also referred to as atopic dermatitis). Dogs often develop these skin conditions if they are exposed to an allergen. Today, our Turlock vets list ways you can recognize the different types of allergic dermatitis in dogs and how they can be treated. 

Allergies in Dogs

Dogs that are allergic often develop skin reactions or gastrointestinal symptoms. This is in contrast to humans, who typically develop hives and nasal symptoms. This is because dogs have more cells in their skin, which release histamines and other vasoactive substances if they encounter or are exposed to allergens. When this occurs, dogs can experience symptoms such as itching, scratching, hot spots, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain or discomfort, flatulence and poor coat condition. If your dog suffers from thyroid disease, his or her condition may worsen. 

Allergic dermatitis or atopic (atopy) dermatitis can plague dogs that have an inherited predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a substance (allergen) that they are repeatedly exposed to. These substances are typically otherwise harmless. If dogs are going to develop signs of having allergies, this will usually happen when they are between 1 and. 3 years old. Since the condition is hereditary, it's seen more often in Irish setters, most terriers, bulldogs, Old English Sheepdogs and golden retrievers. That said, all dogs, including mixed breeds, can develop allergic dermatitis.  

Common Types of Allergies in Dogs

Here are some of the most common allergies in dogs:

Food Allergies

Your dog may develop an allergy to their food, even if they've been eating the same brand of food for months. Whether they eat the cheapest or highest quality brand you can find, they will develop symptoms if they are allergic to any ingredient in their food. On the other hand, premium dog foods may not contain as many filler ingredients which may be the source of an allergy.  

Flea Allergies

When dogs are bitten by fleas and an allergic reaction is triggered, they are allergic to a protein in the flea's saliva rather than the flea itself. In fact, dogs who are only occasionally exposed to fleas are much more likely to develop symptoms than dogs who are constantly exposed to the external parasites. 

Contact & Inhalant Allergies

Similar to humans dogs may be allergic to things such as dust mites, trees, weeds, pollen and mold. Monitor when the symptoms appear in your dog to determine which of these common allergens may be triggering an allergic reaction. Are your dog's symptoms seasonal? Pollen may be the culprit. However, if they occur all year, mold may be the more likely cause. 

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

A dog's immune system may overreact to the normal Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria on his skin, causing him to become hypersensitive to bacteria. Bacterial hypersensitivity causes specific changes to occur microscopically in the skin's blood vessels. Your veterinarian can diagnose this condition by taking a bacterial culture and performing an examination of a biopsy sample. 

Dogs with other conditions such as an inhalant allergy, flea allergy and/or hypothyroidism are more likely to develop hypersensitivity to bacteria. 

Diagnosing Dogs With Allergic Dermatitis

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.

Treatment for Dogs With Skin Allergies

If your dog is suffering from skin allergies, treatment will be determined by the specific allergen triggering 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.

Treating a Dog's Allergies With Accunpuncutre Therapy

In addition to the treatments listed above, veterinary acupuncture therapy could be an effective way to help treat your dog's allergic dermatitis.

This traditional Chinese medicine method entails inserting tiny needles into your pet's body's meridians (precise locations where blood vessels converge with nerves). These needles aid in the promotion of blood flow and circulation along these meridians, as well as support the nervous system.

This increase in circulation is able to help dogs with hot spots, granulomas, and allergic dermatitis, as well as improve healing and reduce pain which as a result can reduce a dog's itching from allergies.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. Always follow your doctor's advice regarding asthma or other allergy symptoms. 

Is your dog showing symptoms of allergic dermatitis?  Contact our Turlock veterinarians to schedule an appointment today.

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Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Turlock companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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