The frequency of allergies in dogs can vary depending on their location. They are less common in dry areas like New Mexico or Utah, but are more prevalent in places like Houston, Texas due to the high concentration of allergens like pollen, weed, mold, trees, grass, insects, and sometimes food. Environmental allergies are the most common allergies in dogs, though food allergies do occur, with dogs more commonly being allergic to the main meat protein in their food rather than grains. They are usually allergic to beef, chicken, or pork. If you think your dog has a food allergy and you want to change foods, grain-free diets are not typically effective. We want to change the meat protein. As far as skin allergies go, they’re everywhere.
Allergies can cause a range of issues in dogs such as recurrent ear infections, excessive chewing or licking of their paws, skin infections, dry skin, unpleasant smells on their feet, and upper respiratory symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, reverse sneezing, and increased eye discharge.
A physical exam is crucial in diagnosing allergies in dogs. A veterinarian can identify allergies by symptoms such as redness, inflammation, and specific behaviors like chewing paws and scratching. During the physical exam, I will rule out any other issues. We can also look in the ears and see if they smell or appear red. We will also look to see if the dog is flapping his ears, digging at his head, or rubbing his face on the carpet. I will also look at the skin, feel through the furr, and check the bottom of their feet. If I find scabs, further examinations can be conducted like a skin cytology, where a microscope slide is pressed against a skin lesion to examine what is growing on the skin. It might be their own bacteria overgrowing due to allergies or they may have yeast that's taking advantage of skin allergies. This will also help me choose an antibiotic. If there’s a red ring lesion, we need to make sure it’s not ringworms, which are contagious to humans.
Treatments for dog allergies can range from supplements to improve the skin barrier to medicated shampoos to decrease allergens on the skin and deal with the secondary skin infection that comes with allergies because allergies are the result of overstimulation of the immune system. When your dog gets allergies, the natural bacteria on their skin multiply, so when we see skin infections, it’s often an overgrowth of your dog’s own bacteria. Not only does this lead to redness and inflammation, it also itches a lot. This leads to chewing, which makes the bacteria worse, so it’s a vicious cycle. There are also different medications like antibiotics, antifungals, sprays, mousses, foams, and wipes. There are some specific medications like Apoquel, which is a tablet that blocks the allergic response at a cellular level. Often, dogs respond great and their itching stops within 6 to 8 hours. There’s also an injection called Cytopoint that does the same as Apoquel. It does take a few days to kick in, and some dogs need a booster in a month, but that injection can last anywhere from one to three months. If you have a large breed dog, that is a better option than Apoquel in terms of finances. In really severe cases, I reach for steroids. As there are some side effects, I never put a dog on steroids long-term if I can help it. Steroids are budget friendly and they work really well by suppressing the allergies, but they do get some side effects.
We have clients coming in all the time wondering why their dog has a skin infection when we treated it recently. However, expectations need to be managed because we can’t cure allergies. We can only manage them, and the goal is to get them on a management plan that fits everyone’s budget and lifestyle. Some people have the time to give their dog baths twice a week and remember to give them their supplements and medications, but others don’t, so we have to work within the constraints of what the owner needs and what's best for the dog. Immunotherapy for dog allergies is a process similar to human allergy injections, where the immune system is trained to not react to the allergens that a dog is exposed to. I usually send samples to a veterinary dermatologist to do allergy testing so we can figure out what they are allergic to. Based on that, the dog can get on allergy immunotherapy. This process can be done through injections or sublingual drops. It is a long-term treatment and can take up to a year to see benefits. It is not a cure for allergies, but a way to manage them. If you get a pet that is prone to allergies, consider getting pet insurance to offset some of the costs because treatment is an ongoing expense. Since allergies cannot be cured and only managed, the cost of treatments can add up over the lifetime of a dog. Therefore, it may be beneficial to consider getting pet insurance as soon as you get a puppy, especially if it is a breed known to be prone to allergies. Alternatively, creating a health savings account for your pet and putting away a small amount each month can help offset the cost of treatment.
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