Spring brings blooming flowers and beautiful green trees – which in turn, bring plenty of pollen, molds, and other allergens. You may find it frustrating to deal with seasonal allergies, but you aren’t alone in your struggle! Both dogs and people can suffer from environmental allergies, but despite being associated with many of the same triggers (pollen, molds, dust mites, etc.), there is one key difference.
If you have allergies, you are all too familiar with the sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes that accompany the condition. While some dogs are affected in a similar manner, the most common clinical sign associated with canine allergies is itchiness. Any part of the body may be affected, but the face, feet, and sparsely haired parts of the body are often prime targets. This is because direct contact between the allergen and the skin is what sets off allergic reactions in many dogs, and these are the parts of the body that are most likely to come in contact with allergens.
Allergic reactions in dogs can go unnoticed because to the untrained eye, it may just seem as though your dog is licking themselves as they usually do. While many itch-related issues are solved by scratching, many of them are alleviated (and sometimes exacerbated) by licking – especially when it comes to their paws. As stated in the above paragraph, the area affected by allergens is usually the skin that comes in direct contact with the offending substance and/or isn’t shielded by hair or fur. If you see your dog licking/biting/scratching themselves a lot, they are probably itchy because of some kind of allergen exposure. If you check the area(s) that they are paying a lot of attention to, you’ll usually see that it’s pink or red – which is a sure sign that they are dealing with an allergy problem.
Since skin to allergen contact plays such an important role in canine allergies, it shouldn’t be too surprising that topical therapy plays a vital role in treating the condition. Frequent baths (twice a week or more) are the usual recommendation, serve to physically remove allergens that are trapped within a dog’s coat and on the surface of the skin. Any gentle, non-drying shampoo will perform this function, but medicated shampoos can serve a dual purpose of allergen removal and topical anti-allergy therapy. In between baths, use unscented baby wipes on a dog’s face, feet, or other problem areas after he or she comes in from outdoors. If you’d like there are wet wipes for dogs that are specifically for this purpose.
Products are now available that also help strengthen the skin’s natural barriers against allergens. Research has shown that dogs with allergic skin disease have altered proportions of certain types of fatty acids and other skin components, and these changes have an adverse affect on the ability of the skin to function normally. Regular use of such topical treatments can stop allergic dogs from scratching, licking, and chewing on themselves. Many ointments or dermatologic creams also exist over-the-counter and by prescription. In addition, there are some over-the-counter oral remedies you could try like Chlorpheniramine Maleate or Clemastine Fumarate tablets. You may have to try a few different options (or combinations of options) to find one that works for you. Obviously if anything you use has unpleasant side-effects like diarrhea, nausea, or extreme drowsiness, cease using it immediately.
Sometimes, severe cases of allergies often require more aggressive treatment, so you will have to consult a veterinarian. When topical therapy alone cannot keep a dog comfortable, systemic treatment becomes necessary. Veterinarians typically prescribe corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone) or other immune modulating medications like cyclosporine (Atopica) for severe allergies, but continuing topical therapy is still important even in these cases. The goal is to use the lowest effective dose of the systemic medications to try to avoid side effects. Routine bathing and spot-on products often reduce the amount of drugs needed to keep a dog’s symptoms under control.
Please stay aware of possible allergens in your dogs’ lives, and what you can do to prevent, treat, and alleviate their suffering. We humans know that suffering from allergies is absolutely dreadful, so it can’t be that great for our fur children either. Let us know which products or methods you have had success with, so we can help other pets find relief as well!