Spring Allergies Update
By Arbutus West, on Tuesday, May 9th, 2017
It’s no news that dogs are prone to spring allergies with some breeds, like Staffordshire bull terriers being almost universally afflicted. However most people don’t realize that dog allergies fall into two categories: food and environmental, or atopic, allergies.
In the spring, with pollen, mold and other plant matter in the air we commonly see a resurgence of atopic allergies. Itching from fleas is also a type of allergy and we start to see more flea allergy dermatitis in the spring as well. Allergies can present as a variety of symptoms, but in the dog, the most common symptoms occur as skin irritations: itching, scratching, digging, and gnawing at the skin, often to the point of creating open raw wounds over large areas of the body. Dogs exhibit itching either by licking or chewing the skin or scratching with their feet. Common areas affected are the face, ears, feet, belly, and armpit region.Chronic ear infections are another common symptom, although these are associated with food allergy most commonly. In fact, I’d say that 95% of “ear infections” have an underlying allergic cause!
So what are allergies? An allergy is the result of an immune system that has, for one reason or another, over-reacted to an innocuous stimuli. Sometimes, this reaction seems instantaneous, as when a dog receives a food that contains something to which he is allergic, and he breaks out almost immediately with rash, itchy skin. But frequently, allergies may become made evident in your dog only after “gestating” for a long period, as long as four years or more. It can thus be almost impossible to pinpoint the exact cause that has instigated the symptoms.
We know there is a genetically derived propensity for developing allergies, but of course, there’s not much you can do about this after the fact, after your dog’s allergies have already begun to surface.
How can allergies be treated?
It is important to keep two points in mind. Atopy (environmental allergies) can be managed but not cured, and re-checks are crucial to assess response and modify treatments. Here are some current treatment options:
- Corticosteroids (i.e., prednisone, triamcinolone): Very effective for dogs suffering from atopy. Injectable products such as Depo-Medrol® are long-lasting and should be used cautiously. Long-term continual use is not recommended.
- Antihistamines (e.g. Benadryl): These are generally useless in dogs.
- Cyclosporine (e.g. Atopica) : Effective in most cases, typically fewer side effects than corticosteroids but can cause stomach upset initially. Expensive compared to most other medications.
- Allergy Vaccine : Allergy vaccines can help reduce the symptoms in patients over time, from months to years.
- Apoquel : A new drug revolutionizing the treatment of atopic allergies. It is fast becoming the most prescribed canine drug in north america.
- Shampoos, Rinses, Conditioners : All of these are a vital part of therapy.
- Food exclusion trials : These are key to differentiating between Atopy and food allergy since no EFFECTIVE laboratory tests for food allergy exist (several are on the market but are generally regarded as useless).
Most important of all is visiting your veterinarian as soon as you suspect that your dog may have an allergy. Itching leads to scratching and scratching can quickly lead to infection — so treat potential allergies seriously and seek a prompt professional opinion.