From Pet Health Learning Center
Signs and Symptoms
Many of us suffer from allergies, sometimes only mildly and other times to such a degree that the symptoms and irritation can make our lives miserable. The same is true for our dogs. Just like us humans, canines can suffer from a wide array of different allergies, including food allergies, contact allergies, and inhalant allergies. No matter what category they fall into, dog allergies can cause severe discomfort for your pet and can significantly affect their ability to enjoy life. Being able to recognize that your dog is suffering from allergies can help to ensure that your canine companion will receive the treatment he or she needs as soon as possible. By providing your dog with prompt and appropriate treatment, you will be greatly improving your pet's comfort and happiness.
Since there are several different types of allergies that can trouble dogs, the symptoms of allergic reactions will not always be the same. This is even true for different dogs suffering from the same type of allergies, as individual animals will exhibit their own specific set of symptoms. However, despite these variations there are a number of typical warning signs for each category and even some symptoms that frequently overlap multiple categories. For example, itchiness is the most common symptom displayed by dogs suffering from allergic reactions, but the exact location of this irritation and its duration may differ depending upon the type of allergy affecting the individual dog.
Although food allergies are quite rare amongst dogs, a small percentage of canines are sensitive to certain food components, such as protein or wheat gluten. When a dog suffers from a food allergy, seasonally-unrelated itching is common. This can occur all over the animal's body, but in some cases may be particularly intense around the head and neck. The constant scratching and biting triggered by this itchiness may lead to hair loss. Other possible warning signs include gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting, diarrhea, and gas. Contact allergies are also relatively uncommon amongst dogs, but they can occur. This type of allergy involves a reaction when the dog comes in contact with a certain substance, such as wool or a flea collar. Contact allergies often trigger a localized reaction, characterized by itchiness and irritation around the area of contact.
Inhalant allergies affect dogs more frequently than food or contact allergies. Once again, itchiness is the main symptom. Sometimes this itchiness may occur seasonally if the dog is reacting to a substance like pollen, but other times the itching is more constant, such as in the case of an allergy to dust mites. Biting and scratching are typical behaviors, and may be particularly directed at the feet, hind legs, groin, and armpits. Skin infections and hair loss may also occur as a result of the intense scratching. Additionally, recurring ear infections can be a sign that your dog is suffering from inhalant allergies.
One of the most common types of allergies to trouble canines is sensitivity to flea saliva. While dogs without a flea allergy will experience some irritation as a result of flea bites, hypersensitive canines are often made miserable even by a small number of bites. This type of allergy is commonly characterized by intense itching, scratching, and biting, especially around the head, neck, and tail. This can lead to hair loss and bald spots. Hot spots and red, inflamed skin are also typical. In some cases, fleas or little black specks of flea dirt may be visible on the animal's skin, but this will not always be true as even one or two fleas can cause a significant reaction in a dog with a flea allergy.
Since many of the symptoms of dog allergies, such as intense itching, are shared between different types of allergies, identifying the specific culprit may be difficult. Furthermore, many of the symptoms of canine allergies can also be signs of other illnesses. For these reasons, it's important to have your dog checked out by a veterinarian if he or she is displaying any of the above warning signs or behaviors. A veterinary doctor will be able to help you determine the cause of your dog's suffering and to develop and implement a treatment plan that will restore your beloved pet's comfort and happiness.
In order to make a diagnosis of dog allergies, a veterinarian will conduct a physical examination of your pet. During this process, the practitioner will check for clinical signs suggestive of allergies and may be able to narrow down the field of potential allergens that could be triggering your pet's adverse reactions. The doctor will also go over your dog's medical history and will likely want information from you, as the pet owner, about the home environment and daily activities. In addition to these investigative steps, laboratory tests can also be very helpful with respect to diagnosing canine allergies.
Serum tests are often used in order to check for allergies. The serum is part of the dog's blood, containing fluid and white blood cells. No red blood cells are in the serum. One beneficial test involves checking the levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) in the canine patient's serum. High levels of IgE indicate that the animal is suffering from allergies or from a parasitic infection that triggers a similar response to allergies. Another serum test that may be conducted is a radioallergosorbent serum test (RAST). Radioallergosorbent serum tests are used to identify specific triggers of your pet's allergic reactions, such as pollen or fleas.
Another diagnostic method that may be employed is an intradermal skin test. This involves injecting small amounts of potential allergens under the canine patient's skin in order to check for a hypersensitivity reaction. If your dog is allergic to the substance injected, histamine will be released near the injection site, causing redness and swelling. Finally, if a food allergy is suspected, a food elimination trial will likely be necessary in order to identify the particular food type or substance that your pet is sensitive to. Such trials can be time-consuming and somewhat challenging since they take several weeks to conduct and the dog cannot receive any treats or extra foods during the process. However, if your dog is indeed suffering from a food allergy, a food elimination trial will be well worth it in the long run, as it will help you to protect your dog's health and to restore his or her comfort.
Allergies involve hypersensitivity reactions to certain substances or materials. During an allergic reaction, the body's immune system overreacts to the presence of a foreign but normally non-harmful substance. This triggering substance is referred to as an antigen. When an antigen comes into contact with white blood cells, the body's immune system causes the release of histamine. Histamine, in turn, causes the dilation of capillaries which leads to increased blood flow to the affected area. This area then becomes warm, puffy, and itchy. While the majority of canine allergies are not particularly dangerous in themselves, they can lead to ear and skin infections as well as other illnesses which can be very detrimental to your pet's health and well being.
The potential causes of canine allergies are numerous. However, it's possible to divide the many potential causative agents into several different categories. For instance, inhalant allergens are substances that an animal inhales from the environment, such as airborne pollen, mold, dust mites, and cigarette smoke. Contact allergies, on the other hand, are most frequently triggered by allergens like grass, soaps, insecticides, wool, and nylon carpets. Occasionally, certain types of foods can trigger canine allergies. Some potentially allergy-causing foods or food components include dairy products, protein, and wheat gluten. The most common cause of canine allergies, however, is fleas. More specifically, it's certain components in the fleas' saliva that trigger allergic reactions in many dogs. No matter what type of substance is causing your dog's allergies, avoidance of the causative agent or agents as well as appropriate treatment will go a long way toward improving your pet's quality of life.
While there is no actual cure of for allergies, there are a number of different forms of treatment that can be very effective with respect to reducing allergy symptoms and the severity of hypersensitivity reactions. The specific form of treatment required for your individual pet will depend upon the type of allergies affecting your dog as well as your pet's individual circumstances. In some cases, such as with contact allergies and food allergies, simply preventing exposure to the triggering antigen will be enough to free your pet from its misery. Reducing exposure to antigens as much as possible is always beneficial, but since complete prevention is often not feasible, other treatment methods may be necessary as well.
One possible form of treatment involves using medicated shampoos and conditioners. These products can be very helpful with regards to reducing symptoms manifested through skin problems, such as itching and irritation. Often, medicated shampoos and conditioners will contain moisturizers and substances that help to soothe the skin, such as oatmeal. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be a source of relief for your pet. Very beneficial in many respects, omega-3 fatty acids help to ease allergy symptoms by reducing the immune system's tendency to overreact to the presence of antigens. These fatty acids can be found in fish oil, but since some animals cannot tolerate fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids are available in a number of different supplements.
Several other natural substances can also be beneficial with respect to treating dog allergies. For example, Yucca acts as an anti-inflammatory and promotes normal, healthy functioning of the immune system. Yucca can be administered as a medication on its own, or as one of several ingredients in a natural remedy. Other ingredients that may be found in effective homeopathic remedies include milk vetch and purple coneflower, which help to bolster the immune system. Purple coneflower also helps to reduce inflammation, as does myrrh. In addition, many natural substances help to prevent the infections that can arise when a dog is constantly scratching and biting at its skin. With so many beneficial properties, homeopathic remedies can provide a very effective form of treatment for a dog suffering from allergies, by reducing symptoms, soothing irritation, and increasing comfort.