At Lafayette Companion Animal Hospital, we often see dogs with "hot spots" or allergic dermatitis (also called atopic dermatitis). Dogs often develop these skin conditions when they are exposed to an allergen. In this post, our Boulder County vets discuss ways you can recognize the different types of allergic dermatitis in dogs and how they are treated.
Allergies in Dogs
When dogs are allergic, they frequently develop skin reactions or gastrointestinal symptoms, as opposed to humans, who typically develop nasal symptoms and hives. This is because dogs have more mast cells in their skin, which release histamines and other vasoactive substances when they encounter or are exposed to allergens. Dogs may experience symptoms such as hot spots, itching and scratching, poor coat condition, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain/ discomfort, and flatulence when this occurs. If your dog has thyroid disease, his or her condition may worsen.
When dogs have allergic dermatitis or atopic (atopy) dermatitis, they have an inherited predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a usually harmless substance (allergen) that they are repeatedly exposed to. Most of the time dogs start developing signs of having allergies when they are between 1 and 3 years old. Because this condition is hereditary it's seen more often in golden retrievers, Irish setters, bulldogs, most terriers, and Old English sheepdogs, however, 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:
Even if your dog has been eating the same brand of food for months, an allergy to it can develop. It doesn't matter if they eat the cheapest brand or the highest-quality brand; if they are allergic to any ingredient in their food, they will develop symptoms. Premium dog foods, on the other hand, may not contain as many filler ingredients, which could be the source of an allergy.
When dogs are bitten by fleas and develop allergic reactions, they are allergic to a protein in the flea's saliva rather than the flea itself. In fact, dogs who are only exposed to fleas on occasion are more likely to develop symptoms than dogs who are 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.
When a dog's immune system overreacts to the normal Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria on his skin, he develops bacterial hypersensitivity. When dogs have bacterial hypersensitivity, specific changes occur microscopically in the blood vessels of their skin. A bacterial culture and examination of a biopsy sample can help your veterinarian diagnose this condition.
Dogs that already have other conditions such as hypothyroidism, an inhalant allergy, and/or a flea allergy are more likely to develop bacterial hypersensitivity.
Diagnosing Dogs With Allergic Dermatitis
The most reliable way to diagnose dogs with an allergy is to conduct an allergy test, and there are several types of these tests available. The most common is a blood test that looks for antigen-induced antibodies in a dog's blood.
There is also intradermal skin testing, which involves shaving a portion of a dog's skin in order to inject a small amount of antigen into it. After a certain period of time, the skin is examined for a small raised reaction in order to identify the allergens.
Once your dog has been diagnosed with an allergy, your vet will start developing a treatment plan.
Treatment for Dogs With Skin Allergies
The specific treatment used for your dog's allergy will be determined by the specific 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 for your dog's specific allergy in a lab 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 as well as 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. To keep fleas from thriving on your pet, your vet may recommend giving your dog flea medications.
- 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 is 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 pooch is on another medication, it is still best to reduce their exposure to the allergen 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.