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How to help a Dog With Allergic Dermatitis

At Diamond Bar Veterinary Clinic, we frequently come across dogs with skin conditions such as "hot spots" or allergic dermatitis, also known as atopic dermatitis. These conditions usually occur when dogs are exposed to allergens. In this article, our vets in Diamond Bar explain how to identify the various types of allergic dermatitis in dogs and their available treatments.

Allergies in Dogs

When dogs are allergic, they often present cutaneous reactions or gastrointestinal symptoms, unlike humans, who generally present nasal symptoms and urticaria.

This is because dogs' skin contains more mast cells, which release histamines and other vasoactive substances when they encounter or are exposed to allergens.

Dogs may experience hot spots, itching and scratching, a shaggy coat, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain/discomfort and flatulence. If your dog suffers from thyroid disease, his condition may worsen.

Dogs suffering from allergic dermatitis or atopic dermatitis (atopy) have a hereditary predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a generally harmless substance (allergen) to which they are repeatedly exposed. Dogs usually begin to show signs of allergy between the ages of 1 and 3.

As the condition is hereditary, it is more common in golden retrievers, Irish setters, bulldogs, most terriers, and English sheepdogs, but all dogs, including mixed breeds, can develop allergic dermatitis.

Common Types of Allergies in Dogs

Below, we have listed some of the most common allergies in dogs:

Food Allergies

It's important to note that your dog can develop an allergy to the brand of food they have been eating for months. This could happen regardless of whether they consume an expensive or cheap brand. If any ingredient in their food triggers an allergic reaction, your dog will experience symptoms. However, premium dog foods tend to contain fewer filler ingredients, which could be the source of an allergy.

Flea Allergies

Dogs can develop allergic reactions when fleas bite them, but they are actually allergic to a protein present in the flea's saliva rather than the flea itself. Interestingly, dogs occasionally exposed to fleas are more likely to show symptoms than those constantly exposed to these external parasites.

Contact & Inhalant Allergies

Dogs, like humans, can be allergic to things like mold, pollen, trees, weeds, and dust mites. Pay close attention to when the symptoms appear to determine which one your dog may be allergic to. If your dog's symptoms are seasonal, pollen may be to blame, but if they occur all year, they may be allergic to mold.

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

When a dog's immune system reacts excessively to the normal Staphylococcus bacteria on its skin, it develops bacterial hypersensitivity. This condition causes specific changes in the blood vessels of the dog's skin at a microscopic level. To diagnose bacterial hypersensitivity in dogs, a bacterial culture and examination of a biopsy sample can be done by a veterinarian. Dogs that have pre-existing conditions such as hypothyroidism, inhalant allergy, and/or flea allergy are more susceptible to developing bacterial hypersensitivity.

Diagnosing Dogs With Allergic Dermatitis

The most reliable way to diagnose a dog's allergy is to conduct an allergy test. Different types of allergy tests are available, but the most common one is a blood test that examines a dog's blood for antigen-induced antibodies.

Another method is intradermal skin testing, which involves shaving a portion of a dog's skin to inject a small amount of antigen into it. After a certain period of time, the skin is examined to identify the allergens through a small raised reaction. Your vet will start developing a treatment plan once your dog has been diagnosed with an allergy.

Treatment for Dogs With Skin Allergies

The specific treatment used for your dog's allergy will be determined by the particular allergen causing their symptoms. Your pup's treatment could consist of one or more of the following:

  • Immunotherapy (hypo-sensitization) can also be referred to as allergy shots. Hypersensitizing injections are specially manufactured in a lab for your dog's specific allergy and are given to your pup on a regular basis (frequency depends on your dog's specific case). While this method is often highly successful, it can take 6 to 12 months for there to be any visible improvement. 
  • Medicated baths with shampoos containing antimicrobial and antifungal agents and other ingredients can help soothe a dog's injured skin, reduce inflammation, and remove allergens.
  • Flea control regimes can help prevent and get rid of fleas. Your vet may recommend giving your dog flea medications to keep fleas from thriving on your pet.
  • Antihistamines might be able to help control your dog's symptoms. However, they don't always work. On the other hand, if antihistamines are effective, this could be an affordable option that typically has a very low risk of side effects.
  • Hypoallergenic diets can either remove, replace, or reduce the food ingredient your dog is allergic to.
  • Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents should be used as a last resort to manage a dog's itching and scratching when the allergy season is short or to relieve extreme discomfort (and in small quantities). This method may result in increased urination, increased thirst and appetite, skin jaundice, and behavioral changes. Long-term use of this method may result in diabetes or decreased resistance to infection.
  • Controlling your dog's environment could be the best way to manage your dog's allergy if you are aware of the allergen and are able to remove it or minimize your dog's exposure to it effectively. Even if your pup is on another medication, reducing their exposure to the allergen is still best if possible.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of allergic dermatitis, contact our Diamond Bar vets today and schedule an appointment.

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