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Allergies in Dogs

It may surprise you to learn that allergies are the most common cause of skin-related problems in dogs and cats. Estimates range widely, but most experts believe that about 20% of our dog population suffers from an allergy in one form or another.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Allergic?
If your dog licks his feet, seems itchy, has chronic ear or skin infections, or has chronic anal sac problems, there is a very good chance that an allergy is the primary culprit. While people tend to have allergic signs mostly related to the respiratory system, dog allergies are seen primarily as chronic problems associated with the skin and related structures. Excessive licking of feet, legs and abdomen is nearly a guarantee that allergies are involved. Depending on the cause of the allergy, you may see these signs being worse during certain seasons of the year, at least initially.

What is My Dog Allergic To?
Atopic Dermatitis — This is probably the most common cause of allergic problems in our area and is caused by the dog’s immune system hypersensitivity to common substances in the environment such as pollens, molds, or dust mites. Dogs prone to this type of allergy usually start to show signs at two to five years of age, and the signs tend to worsen, as the dog gets older.

Atopic Dermatitis cannot be cured, or even prevented in most cases. The key lies in control of the symptoms and the secondary problems such as ear infections, skin problems, etc. so that the dogs can live a comfortable life. Medical control may include corticosteroids such as prednisone, antihistamines, fatty acid supplements, special shampoos and other topical agents, or a combination of these treatments.

Allergy testing, followed by hypo-sensitization injections, is a very good option in many dogs with environmental-related allergies. An allergy test performed by a Veterinary Dermatologist determines the specific allergens affecting your pet. Based on this, a series of injections designed for the dog’s allergies are formulated. In many allergy dogs this is extremely effective, leading to partial to complete resolution of allergic signs thereby greatly decreasing the need for on-going medications.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)
An allergy to fleas (actually to their saliva!) is the most common cause of canine allergies nationwide. Our flea populations are lower than in some parts of the country so we probably see fewer cases, however, it is still a significant problem. The usual signs of FAD are skin infections and irritations over the rump, tail, back legs and other areas of the body. These can be very sudden in onset and can be quite severe.

Surprisingly, fleas are often not found on these dogs, as it only takes one bite from a flea to ignite this problem in a dog that is prone to it. In the last few years, several very effective and safe flea adulticides have become available, making control of fleas and prevention of FAD much easier than it used to be.

So Are Allergies Really a Problem For My Dog?
Yes!! Aside from the misery of being chronically itchy, the secondary effects of uncontrolled allergies can be devastating to the health of your canine friend. As you can see from reading the previous sections, there are numerous ways to control canine allergies and thus prevent or minimize the secondary health problems associated with them. Early control is the key. If you suspect allergies in your dog, there are lots of ways we can help!

Food Allergy
This type of allergy is becoming more common among our canine population. Dogs can become allergic to foods even after eating the same food for several years. The protein source contained in the food is usually the cause of the allergy. Because of their common use in dog foods, beef, pork and chicken are the main culprits, although soy products, wheat, corn and others can be responsible.

Because almost all commonly available foods contain one or more of these food sources, simply changing brands does not help. If a food allergy is suspected in your dog, we will recommend a 60-day trial feeding a "hypoallergenic" diet. These diets are made from novel (unusual) food sources such as rabbit, venison, fish or others not commonly contained in commercial diets. Although lamb based diets were once considered good allergy diets, they now have become so common that their usefulness for food allergy dogs has greatly declined.

Visit the Royal Canin website to view the hypoallergenic diets they make that we carry.

Does Swimming Cause Ear Infections? 
While this is not a simple question to answer, the fact is that swimming alone does NOT cause canine ear infections. Swimming and the unavoidable water it leaves in the ear may worsen signs of ear infection in some dogs, but it does not alone cause them. If your dog is a swimmer and seems to get ear infections associated with this, it most likely means there is a functional problem with the ears such as those produced by allergies or other primary problems affecting the natural self-cleaning mechanism of the ear cana. In truth, the vast majority of swimming dogs do not get ear infections. Also, there is the fact that most dogs that have had problems with "swimmer’s ear" suddenly see the problems go away when their allergies are controlled.

If it is determined that a specialist in dermatology would be helpful for your pet, Dr. Amy Haarstad, a board certified dermatologist, routinely sees cases at the PetCare Center.

Haarstad Veterinary Dermatology


Providing Exceptional Veterinary Care

The Alexandria Veterinary Clinic PetCare Center has a staff of four doctors and an exceptional support staff of certified veterinary technicians, client service representatives, and groomers. Health care at the clinic ranges from preventative medicine to critical care. Our veterinarians have more than 100 years of combined veterinary experience to help you with your special pet. We offer state of the art technology including laser surgery.

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