Constant scratching, face rubbing and chewing on legs are common signs that a dog has skin allergies. More severe symptoms include hives and hair loss, which can lead to infection. Fortunately, veterinary medicine has come a long way in treating canine skin allergies.
Work with Your Veterinarian
It is best to work with your veterinarian when treating your dog's skin allergies. A qualified veterinarian can run skin or blood tests to help determine the cause of your dog's skin allergies.
There are two types of blood antigen tests: RAST or radioallergosorbent and ELISA or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Your veterinarian determines which is most appropriate for the potential allergens in your dog's environment and orders the blood work. An immunoassay is run to test for antibody reactions in the dog's blood.
An intradermal skin test is done in the veterinarian's office. After sedating the dog, a small patch of skin is shaved and a series of small needles inject low doses of potential allergens just under the surface of the skin. If the skin reacts with small bumps at any of the sites, the offending substance is noted so it can be addressed in the treatment plan.
If skin or blood tests prove ineffective, a veterinarian can help you evaluate your home for possible unique environmental causes.
Determine the Cause
There are many potential causes of skin allergies. These include genetic disposition, seasonal sensitivities and contact with certain surfaces in the environment. Like people, the most common cause of skin allergies in dogs is the environment, either due to seasonal changes or surfaces in the home such as synthetic fabrics or dust.
Flea bite allergies are less common but should be considered. Humans also react to these parasites. Many owners notice their own symptoms first. If fleas are suspected, work with your veterinarian to treat the flea infestation.
Some information suggests that certain breeds are more prone to allergies than others. Because of the wide range of causes this is not likely true. Instead, older dogs, young puppies, those with sensitive immune systems, those living in stressful environments and those with anxious personalities appear to be more susceptible to developing allergies.
Working with your veterinarian, determine the best treatment for your dog's skin allergies. This likely will involve a combination of medications, special shampoos and environmental management.
Antihistamines and corticosteroids are two categories of drugs veterinarians often prescribe for skin allergies in dogs. Antihistamines work to calm the immune response causing the allergy while corticosteroids reduce swelling and inflammation.
Immunotherapy is a newer treatment option that involves giving low dose injections containing the allergen or a comparable substance. The dog's immune system then reacts to build up a tolerance. This is much like giving a vaccine specifically for your dog's skin allergies.
While working with your veterinarian to determine long-term treatment, there are things you can do to help your dog at home. Regular baths, environmental changes and special diet can all help reduce allergic reactions.
Special shampoos and regular bathing can help control your dog's skin allergies. Using a hypoallergenic shampoo, bathe your dog weekly to remove potential allergens from his coat. A damp cloth with water and baking soda can be used to wipe the dog daily in between baths. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on shampoos.
If your dog has environmental or seasonal allergies, chances are they can be avoided or minimized with regular cleaning. As with human allergies, vacuuming furniture and carpets, washing bedding and clearing dust from surfaces regularly all can help to reduce reactions.
It may help to remove certain pollen-bearing plants from the home. If your dog's skin allergies are caused by contact with surfaces, such as synthetic fibers, consider limiting time spent on carpets, rugs or furniture that may trigger a response.
Many dogs with skin allergies do well with a home-prepared diet. These diets are designed to reduce gut inflammation, thereby improving the dog's overall immune health. If you are unable to switch your dog to a home-prepared diet, shop for foods that are grain-free, contain a novel protein and have minimal ingredients.
Much like allergies in people, skin allergies in dogs may resolve themselves or be a lifelong, chronic condition. Working closely with your veterinarian, providing regular grooming and maintaining your dog's environment for triggers provides the best chances for long-term resolution of your dog's symptoms.
Shelly Volsche has worked as a professional dog behavior consultant, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and a diploma in canine nutrition. She has written for "The Chronicle of the Dog" and Lucky Dog Magazine and is currently pursuing her PhD in anthropology with a focus on pet parents.