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Medical Monday: Dog Allergies

By: Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna
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in Virginia, the grass is starting to grow and some buds are showing up.  While I am excited to see the end of winter, I am keenly aware of what spring brings: allergies.

Dogs suffer from allergies that include pollen, grass, mold, and dust.  But unlike humans, dog allergies manifest in the skin and gastrointestinal system.  While many humans get hay fever, itchy eyes, and stuffy sinuses, many dogs have itchy feet, ear infections, and anal gland issues. 

As a veterinarian, I often have clients call reporting that their dog is itchy.  Sometimes they are scratching, or chewing their skin and feet, so much that they aren’t sleeping well.  I can often see a decrease in “Longest Period of Uninterrupted Rest” in their dog’s Voyce data.  Sometimes we will also see odd patterns of activity as their dog sits and scratches.  So how can we help with these problems?

The first step is to have the patient come in for a veterinary check up.  I check for signs of infection, which is often secondary to the skin being damaged from the scratching.  I also make sure that he is on flea and tick prevention, year round.  Flea allergies are incredibly common and can happen year round anywhere that a “hard freeze” does not occur.  So even as far north as Virginia, we need year round flea and tick prevention.

The next step is evaluating bathing habits.  If a dog is allergic to grass or pollen, and he goes for a daily walk, it is important to remove those pollens.  Wiping your dog down after a walk (including the feet) is a great first step.  Using a moisturizing shampoo weekly can also be beneficial.  Colloidal oatmeal is very soothing, and can help decrease itching, so I recommend looking for a shampoo with colloidal oatmeal as an active ingredient.  Bathing the “right way” is also important.  Using warm water, you want to massage the shampoo deeply into the skin (not the hair) for a minimum of 10 minutes before rinsing and toweling off.  Blow-drying can irritate the coat, so I don’t recommend that step.  An oatmeal cream rinse can also help keep moisture in the skin, and itching to a minimum.

Many pet parents ask about anti-histamine use.  Anti-histamines work well for humans, but dogs do not have as many histamine reactors.  For this reason, not all dogs respond well to anti-histamines.  Many veterinarians will do a trial with anti-histamines, but caution the pet parent that the drugs may not work.  Common anti-histamines include diphenhydramine, chlorphenaramine, and hydroxyzine.

Natural treatments, such as Omega 3 fatty acids are incredibly useful.  These fatty acids provide the body with building blocks for healthy skin, and help to decrease inflammation.  Additionally, some dogs find relief with herbal supplements or acupuncture.  If you have questions about these therapies, speak with your veterinarian.

Medical treatments are also available.  New drugs are introduced every year, in an effort to make dogs more comfortable.  Pramoxine can soothe skin and itchiness, and is often an ingredient in anti-allergy medicine. Steroids are available, but can cause side effects, including drinking and urinating more frequently.  And of course, it is vital to treat any secondary infections with antibiotics or anti-fungal medicine, since infections cause itchiness as well.

If you notice your dog is itchy year round, he may not have seasonal inhaled allergies, also known as atopy.  Instead, he may have a food allergy, or a contact allergy.  In those cases, you many need to modify your home environment or change your food to see improvement.  Veterinarians and veterinary dermatologists (skin specialists) can be great partners in helping your dog become more comfortable.

So now that the snow is starting to melt, enjoy some time outside!  Get some sunshine, smell a few flowers, and know that allergy relief is available for you and your dog.

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