Overview Almost anything that an animal comes in contact with has the potential to produce an allergic response. The most common types of allergies in the dog are bacterial, contact, inhalant, flea, and food allergies.
Bacterial Allergies Staph bacteria that are normally present in the environment can produce an allergic response in some dogs. The animal's immune system should recognise the bacteria and keep it from creating a problem. However, in animals with poor immune system function, the bacteria can invade the deeper layers of the skin and cause an infection called pyoderma. The signs can range from raised circular lesions to generalised flakiness and hair loss. Intense itching usually accompanies the condition. Staph allergies can also be secondary to some primary allergic condition. For example a dog that has a flea infestation will initially itch due to the allergic reaction from the fleas, then develop a Staph infection and itch from the bacterial infection as well as the flea infestation. Staph infections can be treated with antibiotics, but can easily reoccur. Your veterinarian can prescribe topical as well as oral medications to treat the problem. Some pets require treatment with a Staph vaccine to help bolster the immune systems ability to fight the bacteria.
Contact Allergies Contact allergies are not commonly seen in pets. This form of allergy is a local reaction to some type of chemical. Examples of contact allergy include reactions to flea products, Cedar dog beds, disinfectants, or any substance that may irritate the skin. Usually, removing the offending substance from the pet's environment will resolve the problem.
Inhalant Allergies Inhalant allergy, or atopy, is the most common kind of allergy seen in pets. The condition is similar to hay fever in people, but the symptoms are manifested in the skin rather than the respiratory system. Dogs may be allergic to tree pollen, grass pollen, weed pollen, mold spores, and house dust mites. Allergies to plant pollens are usually seasonal. Mold and house dust can create problems anytime of the year. The symptom is usually the same for any of the inhalant allergens. Dogs will typically scratch, shake their head, rub their ears or muzzle, or lick their feet. There are several methods to treat inhalant allergies. The most common method is to give anti-inflammatories. Corticosteroids and antihistamines, if used carefully, can be a safe, effective way to treat allergies. Your veterinarian can best determine what combination and dosage should be used. Medicated Shampoos may also be used to treat allergies. Hypoallergenic shampoo is soothing and can provide temporary relief to inflamed skin.
Flea Allergy Fleas are a common source of skin allergies in the dog. Before a female flea can reproduce, she needs take a blood meal from a host. Most commonly this is a dog or cat, but any mammal will do. When she bites the animal, she injects saliva into the skin so she can drink the blood. Some animals are extremely sensitive to flea saliva. Once they are bitten and start itching they are at increased risk for a secondary bacterial skin infection. The key to treating Flea Allergy is to get rid of the fleas. There are very effective medications that have been recently developed. Some are given in pill form; others are applied to the skin. Your veterinarian can recommend which one would be most effective for your pet. Sometimes it is also necessary to use steroids to give the pet relief from the flea allergy.
Food Allergy Food allergies can display themselves as skin problems, or as digestive system maladies. They usually take a long time to develop. The allergy can be to the protein source such as beef, chicken, or pork; or to carbohydrates such as rice, or wheat. Diagnosing food allergies takes great patience. The animal needs to be switched to a food source that it has never eaten before; for example lamb and rice diet. It takes at least 12 weeks on the new food to determine if the old food was the problem. There are several hypoallergenic prescription diets available. Your veterinarian can determine which would be the best for your pet. A key to diagnosing food allergies is to be very strict when trying the new diet. Any treats or unapproved food items will invalidate the trial of the hypoallergenic diet.
Diagnosis Allergy testing is also available to determine what the pet is allergic to. Samples of possible allergy causing substances are injected under the animals skin. After a short time the area is checked for an allergic response. There is another type of allergy testing in which a blood sample is taken and submitted to a laboratory that tests for different plant and food items that may be causing your pet to itch.
Treatment Once it is determined exactly what is causing the allergic reaction, the lab can develop a vaccine to desensitise your pet to those substances. Allergy testing and desensitisation are a developing science and show some promise for managing allergies without depending on steroids.