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How to Help a Dog With Allergic Dermatitis

Our vets in Voorhees often see dogs with "hot spots" or allergic dermatitis (also known as atopic dermatitis). If your dog is exposed to an allergen, these skin conditions may become an issue. In this post, you'll learn how to recognize allergic dermatitis in dogs and how they are treated. 


Allergies in Dogs

When dogs have an allergic reaction, they frequently develop skin conditions or gastrointestinal systems, while humans are more likely to experience hives and nasal symptoms. 

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 certain symptoms, including itchy skin, poor coat condition, hot spots, diarrhea, gastrointestinal discomfort or pain, or flatulence when this occurs. If your pup has thyroid disease, his or her condition may worsen. 

Dogs with allergic dermatitis or atopic (atopy) dermatitis may have an inherited predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a substance that's typically harmless (allergen) that they've repeatedly been exposed to. Most dogs who experience allergies typically start developing symptoms when they are between one and three years old. Since this condition is hereditary, it's diagnosed more often in Golden Retrievers, Old English sheepdogs, Irish setters, bulldogs, and most terriers. However, all dogs, including mixed breeds, can develop allergic dermatitis. 

Common Types of Allergies in Dogs 

Here are some of the most common allergies in dogs that can cause atopic dermatitis: 

Food Allergies 

Dogs can develop allergies to food at any point, even if they've been eating the same brand for months. The quality of the food (cheap or premium) does not matter; if your pup is allergic to any ingredient in their food, this can contribute to atopic dermatitis. That said, premium dog foods may not contain as many filler ingredients, which can trigger allergies. 

Flea Allergies 

When a flea bites your dog, the protein in the flea's saliva (not the flea itself) can trigger an allergic reaction. Dogs who are only exposed to fleas occasionally are more likely to develop symptoms than dogs who are constantly exposed to these external parasites. 

Contact & Inhalant Allergies 

Similar to humans, dogs can be allergic to things like dust mites, mold, trees, weeds, and pollens. Watch your dog carefully if symptoms appear to determine which allergen may be triggering the reaction. If your dog's symptoms are seasonal, pollen may be the culprit. However, if you notice symptoms year-round, mold may be at the root of the problem. 

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

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 to inject a small amount of antigen into it. After a certain period, the skin is examined for a small raised reaction to identify the allergens.

Once your dog has been diagnosed with a skin allergy, your vet will start developing a treatment plan.

Treatment for Dogs With Skin Allergies

The specific treatment recommended 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 regularly (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 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 can 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.

Is your dog displaying symptoms of allergic dermatitis? Book an appointment with our vets at Voorhees Veterinary Center.

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