Last March, as my own body serenaded the first breaths of spring by bellowing nose blowing, symphonic sneezing and continuous eye-rubbing, I glanced through watery eyes at my seven month-old Newfoundland and realized that he, too, might be sharing the allergy love. Gus looked back at me with goopy, red puppy eyes pleading for help as he incessantly scratched at his flank.
Long-time Happy Hound Hotel client Lisa Allison also noticed last summer that her yellow lab, Tucker, was continually biting and scratching, to the point of developing hot spots. At first, she said, she thought it was stress related. “He was just miserable so for his peace of mind I decided I needed to get in to the doctor,” she recalls. “He is a super happy, crazy lab. It was so awful to watch him scratch at his stomach and bite himself. He was always trying to get his paw in his ear.”
Like humans, dogs are susceptible to various allergens. Canine allergies generally fall into four categories:
- Flea allergic dermatitis, or an allergic reaction to the saliva of fleas
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergies (indoor and outdoor)
- Contact allergies (fabrics, rubber, etc.)
Although dog allergies are common, veterinarians agree that they can be difficult to diagnose and their symptoms can mimic the signs of other serious health issues. A potentially lengthy process of elimination is often used to determine what is causing your pet distress. When contacting your veterinarian, note the following information to help guide your doctor to a diagnosis:
- gauge the season(s) your dog exhibits symptoms (year round vs. Spring)
- assess the exact location(s) of symptoms (feet, groin, ears, etc.)
- document the type of symptoms
Signs of allergies range by dog and by allergy. Symptoms include:
- scratching, biting, and chewing — potentially to the point of self-mutilation
- hot spots
- particularly itchy areas, including feet, flanks, groin and armpits
- constant licking
- rubbing face on carpet
- rash, bumps, pimples or open sores on the skin
- red, watery eyes
- sneezing, runny nose
- poor coat texture or length
Allergies are life-long health issues for dogs. According to online veterinarians Race Foster and Marty Smith in a peteducation.com article, canines usually develop allergies between the ages of 1 and 3 years and as a dog ages his or her allergic reactions increase. Allison realized that 7 year-old Tucker had always exhibited symptoms, but that they were progressively becoming worse. She was referred to a dermatologist specializing in dog allergies and discovered that Tucker is allergic to a number of outdoor allergens, including grasses, trees, shrubs, weeds. Diagnosis and treatment, which included steroids and immunotherapy shots that Allison administered to Tucker, was successful but Allison said that her dog will always be on a maintenance program to keep him from having further reactions when outdoors.
Allergy treatment options, according Foster and Smith, include topical therapy, antihistamines, immunotherapy, steroids, fatty acids and avoidance of the allergens.
It’s spring again and we’re still working with our veterinarian to determine if Gus has environmental or food allergies, or both. During the past year we switched him to a fish-based food and added fish oil to his diet. His initial skin rashes responded well to corticosteroid treatment last spring and his coat has thickened over the months. However, both of us are once again weepy-eyed again and that leads us to suspect environmental allergies. Even when they’re dripping, those puppy eyes are still a heart-breaker.
Online references used for this article:
Allergies and Atopy in Dogs, Race Foster, DVM & Marty Smith, DVM, peteduation.com;
Cheryl Minnier, 1996; Donna Spector, DVM
Information on the Happy Hound Hotel web site pages is for reference only and should not take the place of advice from a licensed medical professional. We recommend that pet owners seek a medical professional for all animal health issues.