This topic comes up so frequently that I thought I would post this article from LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, it stresses the importance of an accurate diagnosis being the first step in treatment.
“This is the reason that we encourage diagnosis of the underlying cause of the allergy and more specific or less potentially harmful treatments”.
Coping with an itchy pet can be an extremely frustrating experience for you, the pet owner and can truly test the limits of the human-animal bond. Persistent scratching and chewing by the pet can also result in self-excoriation and open wounds. The following information is intended to provide the pet owner with a basic understanding of the most common underlying causes of itching and allergies in the small animal.
The Most Common Causes of Chronic Itching
The common causes fall into two groups: external parasites and allergies. External parasites that most commonly cause chronic itching dermatitis include fleas and sarcoptic mange. We often recommend therapeutic trials for sarcoptic mange in chronically and severely itchy dogs. We always recommend stepped-up flea control and monitoring for fleas, as flea infestation can really make allergy worse!
What are allergies?
Allergy is a state of hypersensitivity in which exposure to a harmless substance known as an allergen induces the body’s immune system to “overreact”. The incidence of allergies is increasing in both humans and their pets. People with allergies usually have “Hay Fever” ( watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing) or asthma. While dogs can rarely also have respiratory allergies, more commonly they experience the effects of allergic hypersensitivities as skin problems. Though there are a variety of presentations, this can often be seen as redness and itching, recurring skin or ear infections, and hair loss. This is sometimes called ‘eczema’ or atopic dermatitis.
What are the Major Types of Allergies in Dogs?
Flea allergic dermatitis is the most common skin disease in dogs and cats. For the flea allergic patient, 100% flea control is essential for the pet to remain symptom-free. “But doctor, I never see fleas on my pet.”
You may not see them, but that does not mean they are not there. The allergy is caused by the flea’s saliva, and it only takes a few bites to induce the problem. Also, the itchy pet often scratches so much that adult fleas are removed, making them hard to find. “If fleas are the problem, why is my pet still itchy in the winter.” – In warm climates like we have Louisiana, fleas may survive in low numbers year-round. Because flea allergy is so common, we recommend that complete flea control be instituted before proceeding with diagnostics for other allergies and that year-round flea control be maintained for all allergy patients.
Some pets develop specific hypersensitivities to components of their diets. The allergen usually is a major protein or carbohydrate ingredient such as beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat, or soy. Minor ingredients such as preservatives or dyes are also potential allergens. The diagnosis of food allergy requires that we test your pet by feeding special strict diets that contain only ingredients that he has never eaten before. This is often achieved by feeding a prescription diet for a period of 10 – 16 weeks. If the signs resolve, a challenge is performed by feeding the former diet and watching for a return of the itching. If this occurs, a diagnosis of food allergy is confirmed.
Atopic dermatitis (AD) is an inherited predisposition to develop skin problems from exposure to variety of commonplace and otherwise harmless substances including the pollens of weeds, grasses and trees, as well as house dust mites and mold spores. Diagnosis of AD is made based on the results of intradermal skin testing or by in vitro blood testing. Skin testing is the preferred method; small injections of many different allergens are made in the skin on the pet’s side, under light sedation. Observation of the reactions helps us compile a list of allergens for a “vaccine” that is made to decrease the pet’s sensitivity. Sometimes multiple skin and/or blood tests are necessary to accurately assess the patient’s allergies.
Allergies are often the underlying cause of recurring skin and/or ear. Bacterial and yeast infections, though secondary to the allergy, can cause an increase in your pet’s level of itching. Long term treatment with antibiotics and anti-yeast medications is commonly required, along with medicated bathing programs.
Can allergies be cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergy and it is usually a life-long problem. We seek to control allergy and improve the quality of life for both you and your pet. We will formulate the best program of management that suits all involved with your pet’s care.
Can I have the itching treated without the expense of diagnostic testing?
Symptomatic drug therapy can help to reduce itching. Steroids, such as prednisone tablets, in particular, are often employed to stop the itch. However, without addressing the underlying cause, the itching will return. Long term use of steroids can result in many health problems. This is the reason that we encourage diagnosis of the underlying cause of the allergy and more specific or less potentially harmful treatments.
– See more at: http://www.lsu.edu/vetmed/veterinary_hospital/services/dermatology/patient_information/allergies_in_dogs.php#sthash.tAEI8WbV.dpuf
Saliva and hair tests for food allergies are a scam and a waste of time and money.SusanMember
People can do their own research & book to see a Dermatologist vet.
While waiting for Dermvet appointment join 1 of the really good Dog Allergy f/b groups thats out there…
Heaps of really good ideas…
“Dog Allergies, Issues and Other Information Support Group”
How do I ask a Question and start a comment on this site?SusanMember
Hi Anna B,
I’m on a lap top type computer & how I post a new Topic is I click on “Forums” its up the top,
& all these topics will come up, then I click on “Diet and Health” then you scroll down to the bottom of “Diet & Health” & you will see “Tittle” then under Tittle write your story – questions etc… Maybe it’s different with a I phone???Deb DMember
Susan, I went to the Facebook link and requested to join the group. I received notice that I could access the group and did so. It seemed to be JUST what I am looking for — especially as it is science-based information. Went to bed with the idea of tackling it this morning, but now I “can’t get there from here.” Do you know how I can make contact again?Ashlee BMember
Wow, It’s a great and effective information. Thanks a lot anon
You’re welcome 🙂Val DMember
Thank you anon101 for all your valuable info on not only the dog itching/allergy crisis…but other subjects as well!! obviously you are a Vet….that is extremely concerned with pet health info sharing. BRAVO to you.
I have two twin Yorkies age 9 that have been suffering with the itchiness….been to Vet 3x this month…usual diagnosis…put on Temaril P. However my loving, kind male has become slightly aggressive/snippy…won’t let anyone touch him…over a week now…..still same. Vet says I have to give more time. I asked for blood tests….said wait.
So…I am beside myself…any suggestions?
- This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by Val D.
@ Val D,
You’re welcome. I’m no vet, however I have worked in healthcare and have owned dogs for decades.
I have learned a lot of things the hard way.
I would get another opinion from a different vet if you are not seeing improvement within a reasonable amount of time.
If the pruritus has been going on for 1 year/4 seasons and has not responded to treatment by the regular vet I would make an appointment with a veterinary dermatologist
Maybe I got lucky but I got good results by going that route. There are a lot of treatments available today, sometimes it is worth going to a specialist.
They can get bacterial skin infections…very uncomfortable.Samanthia KMember
I have a 5 year old old English bulldog that is a rescue. He has the worst allergies iv ever seen. He is on allergy meds and i use salmon oil on his food. I use coconut oil on his sores and he gets baths in medicated shampoo once a week. The only thing that seems to clear him up is when he is on antibiotics. I cant afford the grain free dog foods out there and am thinking of starting a grain free raw diet to see if it helps. His sores are all over from his head down his neck all the way to his back. Right now he has a boil on the backnof his neck that is rock hard and pops and bleeds everywhere. I need help to fix him. He looks and feels miserable and i hate it. Anyone know what i could do to help him?
This dog needs to be treated by a veterinarian, asap. Ideally a veterinary dermatologist.
PS: The diet will not only not help but is nutritionally unbalanced and may make him sick and cause more problems, in example: gastrointestinal.Deb DMember
Samanthia, please do work with a veterinarian. We adopted an eight year old German shepherd dog nine months ago. She was a mess because of neglect and allergies. Imagine a GSD with no hair and infections in eyes, ears, urethra, anus, and toes. We have never dealt with a dog with allergies and, thankfully, let our vet guide us. We went through countless medicated baths and bottles of medicated ear cleaner, two Cytopoint shots (They were a real game changer for our girl.) and Z/D dog food. (Yep, we have also had to deal with the recall but, thank God, her Vitamin D levels are okay.) She is now on a maintenance schedule of one medicated bath a month and weekly ear cleanings. We think she has both environmental and food allergies so it is an excruciatingly slow process to figure things out BUT she is relatively comfortable so we can all sleep. She is not itch free but almost, and a world improved. And, we now have her at a point where we can experiment with one food and see if it causes increased symptoms.
The hardest part for us is the food. First of all, we would never have fed a food like Z/D. Second, she is not fond of it and we want a highly palatable food for training because she was neglected in that area too. Hill’s Hypo Treats are not gonna make her do back flips. We hope that one day we can find food she loves that loves her and is not grain-free. But meanwhile, we are grateful for Z/D and know that if we have to, we can stick with it. (Hubby and I find it Very difficult to withhold treats because we have always shared our food with our dogs. Her allergies hurt us almost as much as they do her.)
But our vet was the key. She tested swabs from between toes, from the ears, from everywhere so she would know exactly what was needed to treat her. Then she did it again after a few weeks so we made steady progress without overwhelming her (and us) with chemicals. It was beyond expensive but became less so as the diet/drugs/and chemicals did their job. She goes everywhere with us and now we hear, “What a beautiful German Shepherd.” A far cry from a nearly bald dog a year ago.
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