With spring around the corner it’s about time to start stocking up on allergy pills, bug spray and tissues to deal with that pesky plant pollen. While we arm ourselves for battle, we often forget to prepare for our most loyal companions as well. Similar to humans, dogs can suffer from seasonal, food and contact allergies that can make the spring a very miserable time for our canine companion. It is very important during this time to be aware of your dog’s behavior.
About 10-15% of all dog allergens are food-related, but they can also happen in conjunction with other allergies such as seasonal (pollen, grass, mold or mildew), home-related (dust, dander, cigarette smoke, perfumes, cleaning products or fabrics) or even to the material of their chew toys.
Allergies can manifest themselves in many different ways; some of the most common ways are similar to humans and can include:
- Constant licking
- Itchy, red, irritated or scabbed skin
- Excessive paw chewing or swollen paws
- Increased and incessant scratching
- Snoring (if they don’t have a history of snoring)
- Scratching at the eyes or runny eyes
- Excessive scratching at the ears, ear infections or irritated skin in/around the ear
- Excessive sneezing
Be aware, many of these things can happen for other causes and knowledge of your dog’s health history and habits is essential for accurately diagnosing allergies.
The first and most important step to treating your dog’s allergies is to identify what is causing the reaction. With food, this can be a tricky process because it can sometimes be one aspect of the food (Chicken, beef, wheat, soy or corn) that is causing the reaction and not just the brand of food. To pinpoint the offending ingredient, start your dog on an elimination diet by first developing a “clean sheet” with your dog, using a hydrolyzed protein diet for 12 weeks to remove the old food from his system. This process means no cookies, treats or table scraps for your dog. Once his system is cleared out, you can start reintroducing ingredients one-by-one until you find which one causes the allergic reaction.
Other allergies are a bit easier to diagnose. You should consult your vet and describe the symptoms your dog has been suffering, eliminating non-allergen causes for the symptoms. Once these are cleared, a diagnostic test very similar to the skin test performed to diagnose human allergies will be performed and specific allergies identified.
The best form of prevention is avoidance, which means that if your pet is allergic to dust, keep his bed and play areas clean, vacuuming and washing covers at least once a week or as often as needed to prevent the symptoms from returning. Wash your dog with dog-specific shampoo; this will have a two-fold effect: wash the allergens out of his coat and also maintain the pH balance of his skin to repel further bacteria, dust and allergens.
If his allergic reaction is dry, itchy skin, combining a supplement of fatty acids, such as fish oil, can help keep your dog’s skin moisturized and less irritated. In addition, there are allergy injections that can be administered by your vet and, in extreme cases, cortisone can be used. Beware: cortisone is a very strong drug and should only be used with caution and under close veterinarian supervision.
For sudden allergic reactions, such as a bee sting or mosquito bite, antihistamines such as Benadryl can be used to control the reaction. If you are unsure of what dosage to provide your dog, consult your local vet for guidance and take your dog in if symptoms persist.