What To Do About Your Dog’s Allergies – Part One

Many of us know what seasonal allergies feel like in the spring. Sneezing, itchy red eyes, a dripping nose which won’t stop. In short, misery. Hopefully an antihistamine or even a series of allergy shots can bring us relief.

Our dogs can also suffer from allergies and they can be of different types. Let’s first look at exactly what allergies are.

Allergies are our bodies, or our dogs’ bodies, reaction to a foreign substance. This reaction is set in motion by the immune system, whose job it is to protect health by keeping out invaders.

There are three major types of allergies in dogs with differing symptoms and these symptoms can often overlap, causing confusion about what is really causing the problem. The three types of allergies in dogs are skin allergies, food allergies and environmental allergies which is where spring pollen comes in, but there are other causes for environmental allergies as well. Let’s look at each one in turn:

One – Skin allergies are actually the most common type of allergies in dogs and have three causes that make up the majority of cases. These three causes are food allergies, flea allergies and environmental allergies. 

Dogs who are allergic to some ingredients in foods can of course, get gastrointestinal symptoms but this can also cause them to have itchy skin. These allergies commonly manifest as itchy ears and paws.

Flea allergies are not actually an allergic reaction to the flea, but to the flea’s saliva. Dogs who have flea allergies suffer from extreme itchiness, particularly at the base of their tails. Your dog’s skin can get red and inflammed and even develop scabs. You’ll likely notice signs of fleas, such as flea “dirt” and you may even see the fleas themselves, especially if you look on your dog’s belly.

One of the problems with skin allergies is secondary infection due to bacteria or even yeast invading broken, irritated skin caused by your dog’s constant licking, biting and scratching.

Two – True food allergies are not as common as many dog owners think. Your dog may be sensitive or intolerant to a certain food ingredient which may cause an intestinal upset, but this is not the same as a true allergy, which involves the dog’s immune system.

This immune response can result in symptoms such as hives, itching, facial swelling, vomiting and diarrhea or a combination of symptoms. In rare cases, the dog can develop such a severe response that it causes what is known as anaphylaxis which if untreated, often leads to shock, collapse and death.

Three – Environmental allergies include sensitivities to pollen, mold and dust. Like in people, many times these allergies are seasonal, so you may only notice symptoms at certain times of the year, particularly spring. The most common areas affected are ears and paws but the muzzle, underarms, around the eyes, groin and even between the toes can become problem areas as well.

Next time, we’ll get a look at how these various allergic disorders are diagnosed and treated.

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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