Allergies are an overreaction of the body’s immune system to allergens. Allergens are usually proteins from plants and animals, such as dander or pollen. Over time, exposure to these allergens can cause sensitivity and unnecessary reaction. Histamines are released in this reaction which begins inflammation. Inflammation leads to itching, swelling, and redness. This may sound simple, but the scientific understanding of allergies is exceptionally complex.
Most of us humans experience allergies seasonally, and a few of us have them all year long. Many of us live with food allergies, such as peanuts and shellfish and apples. Yes, apples. Allergies are not new to us, and they aren’t new to our pets either. Dog allergies are a very real (and common) issue that pet owners must be aware of.
Are There Different Types of Dog Allergies?
There are three general types of dog allergies: inhalant allergy, food allergy, and skin contact allergy.
Inhalant allergies are also called atopy. Atopy is considered an inherited allergy, and is usually seasonal. Pollens from trees and flowers and ragweed float through in spring and summer, wreaking havoc on all of our immune systems. Though there are also year-round allergens, such as dust, dander, and mold.
While sometimes dogs will experience the same upper respiratory symptoms to inhalant allergens as we do, most often they will exhibit symptoms on their skin. Itchiness, redness, and agitated behavior in regards to scratching. Usually dogs will scratch their ears incessantly, and lick their paws like there is no tomorrow. Licking the paws is an indication that they are itchy somewhere else on the body, or feel an overall itchiness which they can not scratch.
Dogs with atopy, or inhalant allergy, usually react to several allergens at once. This makes it difficult to pin down the culprit. And unfortunately, atopy often precursors food and contact allergies. These dog allergies can be tempered with a few different choices of treatment, but atopy can not be cured. The three forms of therapy available are frequent bathings with hypoallergenic shampoo, desensitization therapy, and anti-inflammatory therapy.
Hypoallergenic shampoo comes in varying options, many with anti-inflammatory and calming ingredients. The option of shampoo helps to soothe itchy and inflamed skin, but this would have to be quite frequent and might be inconvenient for most pet owners.
Desensitization therapy can work if the allergen, or allergens, is discovered. This kind of therapy would involve a weekly injection of antigens, which are essentially allergy shots, in order to desensitize the immune system. A good amount of dogs will show improvement over time, but this method seems even less convenient than constant shampooing.
The third option is anti-inflammatory therapy, which can be taken as a daily oral medication or a long-acting injection. Both the oral medication and the injection are a steroid, or antihistamine, to block the chemical signals from the overreaction of the immune system. If this sounds like a good option for you, ask your veterinarian about fatty acid supplements, which might help your canine respond to the steroid or antihistamine.
Food allergies are often exhibited as skin allergies. The typical itchiness and redness. Sometimes food allergy and inhalant allergy are overlapped, causing difficulty in understanding the source of allergy. Other symptoms include facial swelling and itchiness, digestive disorders, and respiratory issues.
Food allergies usually do not respond well to medication, but can be solved by a process of elimination in the diet. Or the owner can switch their dog to being on a hypoallergenic diet. It takes quite a while to notice a difference in one’s pet when put on a hypoallergenic diet. This process can take about eight weeks, as this is how long food allergens stay in the body. That means no under-table treats or leftover omelet. Nope! Nothing besides the prescribed hypoallergenic diet. Otherwise the process of finding the allergen will not work. When properly followed, this process works well.
Dogs can become allergic to any protein in their food, which often comes from chicken, beef, dairy products, egg, and even soy. If we can be allergic to it, so can they. Not only should we be keeping track of what they could be allergic to, but we should remember that some human foods like garlic can be toxic for dogs. And cats. For many reasons, be sure to keep an eye on what your pet is consuming.
There is a third type of dog allergy that is not so common, yet should be mentioned. It is contact allergy. This is when a dog comes into contact with a substance such as wool, pesticides, bedding material, etc. The skin will become inflamed, red, and itchy on the points of contact. Most often this will be the stomach and paws, especially if it is their bedding. It is also possible that the household detergent is the culprit, as many animals are sensitive to perfumes and chemical additives. A simple removal of the allergen should clear up the contact dog allergy.
Severe Allergic Reactions
Like humans, dogs and our other pets can go into anaphylactic shock from exposure to a severe allergen. Many causes can put a dog into shock. Most commonly these are bee stings, reactions to medication or vaccinations. Sometimes food will cause a severe and potentially fatal reaction such as anaphylactic shock.
What You Can Do to Avoid An Allergy Emergency
It is always a good idea to keep a close eye on your dog when introducing anything new to them which could pose a potential allergy threat. Though this is always possible, a reaction this extreme is quite rare. Most allergies, even when a dog’s lips, ears, eyes, nose, and throat are swollen, will not be fatal. It is important to get your pet into a veterinarian, whether it be an emergency vet or not, if these symptoms do occur. A
will be able to quickly de-escalate the allergy with an antihistamine or steroid. But allergies in dogs are rarely ever fatal.
Unfortunately, our dogs are unable to verbally communicate when they are itchy and uncomfortable. This means we are obligated to watch for signs in their behavior. If in the past your canine did not scratch like a maniac but is now doing so all the time, their skin is raw, and they seem a little agitated, your dog probably has allergies. If they have been licking their paw compulsively, your dog probably has allergies. If your dog has watery eyes and is sneezing a lot, your dog probably has allergies.
Is it Time to Call Your Veterinarian?
There are many signs, and if your dog has been exhibiting any of the above behavior, it is time to ask your veterinarian. We encourage you to call our animal hospital in Lake City, FL at (386) 755-0236 or make an appointment online today!