Have you heard the slightly panicked “thump, thump, thump” of your shepherd’s back paw striking the floor in an attempt to quiet itchy skin?
Canine skin allergies, or allergic dermatitis, are the most common types of allergies in dogs. Your dog may be allergic to any number of irritants that cause him to itch and scratch, leaving you to wonder how to help your uncomfortable-looking and, likely, feeling, companion.
The most common causes of allergic dermatitis are flea allergy, food allergy, environmental allergy and skin bacteria/yeast allergy. Thyroid disease can complicate diagnosis and treatment, as well.
- Food allergy. Dogs can be allergic or sensitive to various ingredients in his food. This manifests as scratching at ears or paws and perhaps diarrhea, vomiting or both. Food sensitivities result from a gradual reaction to specific ingredients like chicken, wheat or milk, and symptoms manifest as chronic ear or foot infections to vomiting and diarrhea. Bona-fide allergies trigger skin conditions like facial swelling and hives.
- Environmental allergy. Dogs can be allergic to the same things as humans, including mold and dust, as well as seasonal allergens like pollen that may only affect your dog during certain seasons—or depending on whatever is pollinating in a particular region at any given time. As with food allergies, look to your pup’s paws and ears for evidence they suffer from environmental allergies. Also check the ankles, in between pads and around the eyes and the muzzle.
- Flea allergy. Flea saliva can trigger a reaction in some dogs—flea allergy dermatitis—which can cause red, inflamed and scabbed skin, especially at the base of the tail.
Skin allergies can cause a spectrum of symptoms, including excessive scratching; excessive licking; rubbing the ears or face; biting or chewing the skin; rubbing/scooting; red, irritated or flaky skin; sores; and hair loss. Secondary bacterial and yeast infection can enter through sores caused by excessive itch alleviation behavior.
What to Do?
Accurate diagnosis is always key to a happier, healthier dog—and is easier on your bank account. Book an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian, and be very specific about what your dog is experiencing. The dog doc will do a range of allergy testing to determine the root cause, which will target treatment measures, making it more effective and efficient.
Laser treatments, injectable nonsteroidal allergy medication, medicated baths and other options can be prescribed based on the cause and nature of the allergy, its location on the body and other factors.
Food allergies can be tricky. The best course is, with your vet’s guidance, to eliminate or change foods to determine what triggers the allergic response. You want to ensure your dog maintains his nutritional needs while discovering the root cause of his allergy/allergies. Allergy testing is available for dogs, but it is costly.
Environmental allergies are easier to discover but harder to avoid. Living with your dog in the country where pollen can be voluminous may pose too many triggers to avoid altogether. Your dog’s veterinarian may suggest antihistamines or other treatment methods.
Flea allergies can be managed more via preventive measures rather than treatment. Again, talk to your veterinarian to determine what type of preventive product may be best for your pup.
What About Nature’s Way?
Holistic treatments can help, but that all-important consultation with your vet will help you determine if they are the best course or are best used as supplements. Green tea, chamomile and calendula can soothe irritated skin and reduce inflammation when added to a bath.
A 50/50 mix of water and apple cider vinegar spray (or used in a bath) can help relieve your dog’s skin allergies or irritation. Some veterinarians recommend coconut oil to help treat a wide range of skin ailments.
Quercetin, a plant-based flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables, is known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antihistamine properties. Quercetin is considered safe, first discuss its use with your vet, as it can potentially cause an adverse reaction with given in combination with certain medications.
Other options include oatmeal baths and even aloe vera.
Road to Health
It’s hard to care for a creature who can’t verbally express its discomfort. But dogs tell us plenty, if we watch and listen. When did the itching and discomfort begin? Was it sudden or gradual? Did seasons change? Did diet change (or not change—there’s that sensitivity)? Tell your vet what you’re seeing and when/where/how, begin a dialogue to determine the best course of diagnosis, mention possible natural treatments if desired and spur action toward a happier, healthier furry companion.
*Note: The content of this blog is neither intended to take the place of a diagnosis of a qualified veterinarian nor as a diagnosis or endorsement of any canine skin allergy treatment and/or product.