Tackling Canine Skin Allergies
It could all be signs of a skin allergy. You’re probably hearing about canine skin allergies more these days. Whether that’s because awareness, and therefore diagnosis, is on the rise, or there are actually more cases, that’s still up for debate. More research is being done on the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that growing up in cleaner environments causes the immune system to become more reactive because it's become less tolerant.
However, what science does agree on at this point are the most common causes of skin allergies: food, environment and external parasites like fleas. Itching and redness of the skin are the symptoms you’re most likely to see. In severe cases, fur begins to fall out, and the skin gets thick, dry and flaky. Pet parents may also notice a pooch licking or chewing his paws, shaking his head or rubbing his ears or eyes. Then sometimes, there’s the butt scoot across the floor. It depends on where the dog is feeling the irritation. If your furry friend shows any of these signs, talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible, both for your pup’s immediate comfort and for long-term health. A skin allergy can affect other parts of a dog's body or get more serious if not treated. Inflamed skin does not perform its normal function as well as healthy skin when acting as a barrier between the body and the rest of the world. Having chronically inflamed skin can put an animal at risk for bacterial and yeast infections of the skin and ears, which in severe cases can spread.
Just like with people, there are a lot of treatment options for a canine skin allergy. The key is to minimize exposure to the cause when possible. If the pet is allergic to a specific food or to fleas, that’s easy to do—change the food, or, in the case of fleas, use flea treatments and follow up with preventatives.
But when a pet is allergic to something like pollen or dust mites, minimizing exposure to the allergen can be difficult to impossible, and other therapies are required.
Medications that suppress the immune system are one option—corticosteroids like prednisone do this effectively, but have a number of short- and long-term side effects. Allergy-specific medications such as Atopica and Apoquel are more targeted at suppressing the allergic response with fewer long-term side effects, although regular monitoring is still required.
Customized immunotherapy is also available in the form of injections and oral drops, which gradually desensitize the immune system to specific allergens. These are prepared by a special pharmacy for each individual furry patient, based on allergy tests.
In addition, a veterinarian will treat for any secondary bacterial or yeast infections that have developed and recommend the use of medicated shampoos and sprays to help relieve itching, treat infection and restore the healthy skin surface, just like the CHS medical team does when treating a dog with a skin allergy. Supplements that include Omega 3 fatty acids are often used to help reduce inflammation.
When treatment starts, be patient. Recovery can take a while. For example, when a certain food is causing a skin allergy, it can take a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks on a restricted diet for your pup to see improvement, and it may take months for full recovery. Steroid medications work quickly, so they are often used as part of an initial treatment to improve itching while a long-term therapy is started. When allergy medications like Apoquel or Atopica are used, it typically takes 2-4 weeks to see significant improvement.
When something other than food causes a skin allergy, it likely won’t be a one-and-done treatment. Unless an allergen can be completely avoided, treatment is a long-term management plan, not a cure.
Your veterinarian can continue working with you on a new routine to keep your pup itch-free, furry and unblemished. And the next time he shakes his head, you’ll know it’s about those treats you two talked about, and not an allergy.
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