Dogs are quite similar to people in that they are also allergic to certain materials, such as substances in food or air, and plant particles. Such substances are known as allergens. Allergens are defined as substances that trigger production of histamine when they are breathed in or absorbed via the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, or skin. The ultimate result is inflammation.
Allergies Related To Air (Atopy)
The number of dogs presumed to be genetically sensitive to allergens in the environment is less than 10%. The male and female of the species are both able to develop allergies to substances in the air. Although it is possible for any dog of any breed (even mixed) to be allergic, there are certain breeds that are prone to allergies. These include West Highland White Terriers, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Boxers, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzu’s, Scottish Terriers, Chinese Shar-Peis, Boston Terriers, Dalmatians, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. Most dogs develop allergies between 6 months and 3 years of age, with the periodic signs being seen all year. The most common sign is itching and scratching, especially of the face, feet, ears, abdomen and front legs. Constant scratching can create wounds, hair loss, scabbing, scaling and infection. Licking or chewing the paws and rubbing the eyes and face are also other signs of atopy.
After all other potential causes have been eliminated, allergies can then be diagnosed. Allergy testing can be helpful in determining the exact allergen responsible and developing specific immunotherapy treatment.
The management options are threefold: keeping the dog away from that particular allergen(s), handling the signs of itching, and an allergy vaccine (immunotherapy). Creating a good management program requires combining various treatments, a pet owner who understands and has realistic expectations, and regular progress evaluations to determine if the plan needs readjustment.
The main goal of immunotherapy is to help the dog tolerate the environmental allergens. Preparing a vaccine entails determining the individual allergens that are affecting the dog. This is done by matching the results of the tests with the most outstanding allergens during a particular time of the year when the dog shows symptoms. This treatment is most suitable for dogs that display allergic reactions for more than a few months during the year. It is important for the dog to oblige to receiving its allergy shots, and in some cases, this can be done at home. The necessary training can be provided by your veterinarian, and most pet owners learn pretty quickly. A competent friend or veterinary staff member can also assist. The rate of the injections and the dosage will be determined by your veterinarian.
The dog owner is the key to effective treatment of allergies. This is a long-term commitment, and it is imperative that instructions are followed to the letter. Patience and clear communication with your veterinarian are also important. Initially, the signs may increase due to the injections. Contact your veterinarian as soon as this happens. It may take 6 months to a year before it can be established whether the treatment is working. A very useful way to gauge improvement is to compare the severity of the allergies before and after the immunotherapy started. The initial stages of treatment also require use of anti-itch drugs and antibiotics.
These injections are not a cure for allergies. Most animals will still need anti-itch medications during certain seasons.
Allergic reactions to food are not as common as those to air substances. For pets, the signs are similar with the exception of level of intensity of itching between seasons. How severe or widespread the scratching is depends on the affected animal, with the age of onset being variable.
Apart from feeding the dog a restricted diet (elimination/hypo-allergenic diet) to see if the itching goes away, there is no effective diagnostic test. Consult your veterinarian so that they may formulate an exact test plan for your dog. The best elimination diet is one that is nutritionally balanced and doesn’t have any food that has been given to the dog previously. One thing every pet owner has to understand is that if any ingredient previously given is put into the elimination diet, there are chances that the dog may be allergic to that particular ingredient, thus causing the test to fail. The main thing is to feed the dog on new ingredients only during any food elimination diet trial. This is inclusive of treats and other food the dog eats.
A normal trial diet lasts for about 3 months. Food allergies can be presumed if there is a total cessation of signs during the elimination diet trial. To prove that a food allergy is present and progress was not merely accidental, the previously fed food ingredients must be given and there should be a recurrence of signs. This usually takes between 1 hour and 2 weeks. As soon as the allergy is verified, the elimination diet should be sustained till the signs are no longer evident, which should not take more than 2 weeks.
There are certain foods that dogs tend to be allergic to. Such foods include eggs, beef, corn, chicken, wheat, milk and soy. As soon as the allergens responsible are identified, managing the food allergy is by stringently keeping that food away from your pet. There is also the possibility that a concurrent disease may interfere with the proper identification of actual food allergies. It is rare for a dog to develop new food allergens as it ages.