Allergies and Asthma in Dogs: What You Need to Know
It’s that time of year again- when environmental allergens all come out to play and start wreaking havoc on sinuses and skin. Reacting to particles in the environment is not just for humans- animals can also have reactions to allergens in the environment. Allergens are predominately proteins from plants, insects, animals or foods. Dogs in particular can have reactions to many airborne allergens, such as tree, grass and weed pollens; dust, molds, mildew and dust mites. Other common allergens for dogs are fleas and food allergies.
Inhalant allergies, also referred to as atopy, are an overreaction or hypersensitivity of the immune system to an airborne allergen that is inhaled. Exposure to the allergen, usually multiple times over a long periods of time, sensitizes the immune system to the allergen and subsequent exposures to the allergen can cause an over-reaction.
In humans, inhaled allergens cause respiratory problems such as asthma. The same thing can happen to dogs. Asthma- traditionally understood as it affects humans as a chronic inflammation of the airways- is not as common in dogs, although feline asthma is common and well documented. With dogs, asthma, or difficulty breathing, is typically referred to as allergic bronchitis, because for dogs this condition is almost always caused by something in the environment, and usually something they have inhaled. Smaller breeds are more susceptible to allergic bronchitis than larger breeds.
Clinical signs of allergic bronchitis in dogs almost always start with a dry hacking cough, which can come on slowly, or all at once. Respiratory distress, including difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and open-mouth breathing, as well as pale mucous membranes (blueish gums), lethargy, exercise intolerance, lack of appetite, and weight loss are all signs of allergic bronchitis. The most common symptom associated with inhalant allergies in dogs is itchy skin, either in one specific area or all over the body. Sometimes, there may be runny discharge from eyes or nose. In other cases, the allergy symptoms affect the digestive system, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea.
Common allergens that can trigger an asthma attack or allergic reaction other than environmental allergens include smoke, from either smoking tobacco, or from open- flame fireplaces, wood stoves or outdoor fires; household cleaners, deodorizers, air fresheners, perfumes, and pollution.
If your dog exhibits these symptoms, you should get them to the vet as soon as possible. Asthma in dogs is usually diagnosed with X-rays and treated with various medications. Allergy testing can be done via skin tests or blood tests to identify the specific allergens that cause reactions. Because the majority of these allergens are environmental, it can be difficult to totally protect your dog from coming into contact with them. Symptoms of atopy can be controlled, but not permanently cured. Allergies are generally controlled with one or a combination of treatments, including Anti-inflammatory therapy (anti-inflammatory drugs, such as corticosteroids, or with antihistamines, will quickly block the allergic reaction), shampoo therapy (frequent bathing with hypoallergenic shampoo to sooth itchy, inflamed skin, as well as removing allergens in and on the coat that can be absorbed through the skin), and Hyposensitization or Desensitization therapy ("allergy shots" that introduce very small amounts of the antigen, injected weekly, with the objective of desensitizing the immune system to the particular allergen).
Some ways to create a healthy living environment for you dog, if they are prone to environmental allergies or asthma that may help them avoid respiratory problems are to use electric fireplaces or candles instead of wood- burning fireplaces; use natural products like baking soda and vinegar to deodorize and clean your home instead of harsh chemicals and air fresheners; and consider installing an air-purifying unit in your home. Bathing your dog regularly, especially if they have recently spent a lot of time outside, can help to limit the amount of allergens that stay on their bodies, and are ingested during grooming. A Voyce monitor can help you to identify and track trends in your dog’s resting respiratory rates, which can help you to recognize when your dog may be having shortness of breath over time, by showing elevated respiratory rates and your vet to diagnose inhalant allergies and asthma in your dog.
Remember, animals are just like us, in that they can be sensitive to allergens in the environment that can cause a whole slew of uncomfortable and irritating reactions. If your dog is exhibiting symptoms you think may be caused by an allergic reaction, get them to the vet as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis, and don’t attempt to treat on your own. Make sure to follow your vet’s instructions closely to provide effective relief from allergens for your pet.