Skin allergies (also called allergic dermatitis) are a very common problem in dogs. Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to normal or common substances. These substances are called “allergens,” and reactions occur after your dog is initially exposed to them.
When your dog comes in contact with the allergen again, his body overreacts (called a hypersensitive reaction), which causes his skin to become itchy and inflamed. In turn, your dog scratches, possibly injuring his skin and allowing bacteria and fungi like yeast to grow and cause a secondary infection.
These are some of the common causes of skin allergies:
- Flea bites
- Eating certain foods or proteins
- Inhaling pollens, dust, dust mite droppings or mold (atopic allergy)
- Reactions to certain drugs, antibiotics or vaccines
- Contact with certain fabrics, plants or chemicals
- Infestations with skin parasites such as demodex mites, sarcoptes mites, lice, etc.
Skin allergies may be seasonal. For example, your dog may scratch more often in the spring and summer because there is more pollen in the air and more growing grass.
The following breeds are prone to skin allergies:
- Cocker Spaniel
- Fox Terrier
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Shar Pei
- West Highland White Terrier
These are some of the common symptoms of a skin allergy:
- Chewing, biting, licking and/or scratching
- Red, raised and swollen areas of skin
- Pimples, scabs, bumps and welts
- Darkening and thickening of skin from excessive scratching
- Loss of hair in patches or general thinning of hair
- Brown staining of feet due to saliva from excessive licking
- Scratching ears and shaking the head
To diagnose a skin allergy, your vet may do a combination of the following:
- Take a detailed history and perform a thorough physical exam
- Do a skin scraping to look for mites
- Exam skin cells microscopically (cytology) to check for bacteria and yeast
- Perform an allergy blood test
- Inject purified allergens under your dog’s skin (intradermal allergy testing)
- Ask you to change your dog’s diet to one that is hypoallergenic
Since allergies tend to be due to an overreaction of the immune system, there is no “cure” for them – they can only be managed. Ongoing treatment may involve a combination of the following:
- Avoiding the allergens where possible
- Treating your dog for bacteria, yeasts and other parasites that contribute to the problem
- Adding supplements to your dog’s diet
- Using anti-itch or antibacterial shampoo
- Applying topical anti-inflammatory or antibacterial creams
- Administering medications such as antihistamines and/or corticosteroids
- Vaccinating your dog against the allergens (immunotherapy)
- Feeding your dog a hypoallergenic diet
Pet parents must accept the fact that managing skin allergies is long term, takes time and dedication, and is often frustrating and expensive.
Follow your vet’s instructions carefully, since you may need to give your dog medications for months. Some of these medications, such as corticosteroids, have many potential side effects, including excessive thirst and urinating, ravenous appetite, bloating and weight gain, wasting of muscle, hormonal diseases, increased risk of infections, kidney failure, stomach ulcers and a decreased lifespan.
Supplementing your dog’s diet with i Love Dogs Reishi with Green Tea can help reduce the need for these medications since it decreases inflammation of the skin and boosts your dog’s immune system.
The best mode of prevention is avoiding the allergen as much as possible. This includes:
- Strict monthly flea control
- Avoiding long or freshly cut grass
- Vacuuming regularly to keep dust, dust mites and mold to a minimum
- Keeping your dog indoors when there’s a lot of pollen in the air
- Avoiding foods that cause allergic reactions