Dog Allergies are some of the most common causes of itching and scratching in dogs. In dogs as well as humans, the skin is the largest organ of the body. It protects us from the environment, provides a way to conserve and discharge heat, and also acts as a reservoir to maintain water balance in the body. It is the first line of defense in protecting our bodies from a harsh and unforgiving world.
What are Dog Allergies?
Allergy, an abnormal response to things in the environment, is very common in dogs. Just like with humans, most allergies in dogs are also caused by substances either in the air that they breathe in (Inhalant Allergies), that they digest (Food Allergies), that bite them (Flea Allergies), or otherwise contact their skin (Contact Allergies).
Dogs can do incredible damage to themselves by scratching and biting. The most common sign of allergic itching is chewing at the feet, and the constant licking may stain the hair coat a rusty color. Other itchy areas include the flanks, groin and armpits. Many dogs rub their faces on furniture, carpet or other convenient surfaces. The ears can also become itchy and the flaps may become reddened and hot. Finding the answers to the causes can be somewhat complicated because with an itchy dog it is often extremely difficult to tell the difference between an inhalant allergy, food allergy, or the effect of fleas, ticks, or mites just by looking.
Allergic inhalant dermatitis (atopy, hay fever) is caused by substances in the air that dogs breathe in. While the reactions in humans are inflamed respiratory passages and sneezing, dogs inhale the pollen and develop atopy in the skin. While dogs usually don’t sneeze, they are itchy, lick, chew, and scratch. If dogs are allergic to pollens, they may have these problems only part of the year, but if they are allergic to house dust or molds, they will probably have problems year-round.
Dogs sometimes react adversely to certain ingredients in food and may vomit, get diarrhea, or develop itchy lesions or hives. Many cases of food allergies go undiagnosed and unmanaged because owners refuse to believe their dog could become allergic to the diet they have been feeding without problems for many months or even years. While it can be difficult to differentiate between a food allergy and an inhalant allergy, one helpful clue is that the majority of food-allergic dogs have problems year-round. Food allergies sometimes have additional symptoms like anal itch, flatulence, sneezing or even asthma-like conditions.
Flea Allergy, also known as flea bite hypersensitivity, is a heightened reaction to flea bites. The reaction is not to the fleas themselves, but to the protein in their saliva, which gets injected when they bite a dog. Not all dogs with fleas have flea allergy. In fact, dogs that continually have fleas almost never have flea allergy. The dogs most at risk are allergy-prone breeds that are periodically exposed to fleas. This may seem hard to believe, but it’s true. Don’t expect the flea-allergic dog to necessarily be crawling with fleas. There is a good chance that you may never see a flea on a truly flea-allergic dog!
Because dogs have a fairly dense hair coat, allergic contact dermatitis is not as common of a problem, since a contact allergen must actually contact the skin (not just the hair coat) to cause a problem. The substances that cause contact allergy are themselves too small to be allergenic, but are absorbed by and interact with the skin to become allergens. Substances that have been reported to cause contact allergies in the dog include plants, topical medications, natural fibers, leather, disinfectants, carpet deodorizers, cement, and plastics. The areas most commonly affected are the abdomen and muzzle areas where the hair coat is the thinnest.
The goal should be to make the dog more comfortable while not complicating the picture too much with drugs that may come with unwanted side effects and the long-term effects are not known. The problem with conventional treatments such as corticosteroids or antihistamines prescribed by the Veterinarian is that these medications typically just relieve the itching during the time of treatment and them the problem returns.
As people turn to more natural care for their own bodies, many are choosing the same approach for their pets. Three approaches – topical treatments, nutritional supplements and proper diet – are the foundation for treating dog allergies naturally. If these simple remedies can make an allergic dog more comfortable, it is not always necessary to identify the specific cause of the itching. In many cases, these three approaches alone can be so effective that the need for the so commonly prescribed corticosteroids and antihistamines can be drastically lowered or even eliminated.
One of the quickest ways to comfort an allergic dog is with a cool bath. The use of a natural calming and soothing dog shampoo will provide instant relief. A natural anti-itch spray with a cooling effect can be applied several times a day as needed. A spray easily penetrates the fur to get to the skin and can be massaged in for an even more soothing effect. A natural anti-itch gel with a cooling effect can be applied to hairless areas such as abdomen, armpits, muzzle, paws, ears and ear flaps to calm and soothe those areas.
One of the best nutritional supplements for an allergic dog is an all-natural red beet dog food supplement. Red Beets are a nutritional powerhouse and a great natural detoxifier to get rid of the toxic substances in the dog’s body that often cause the itching. Red Beets also have anti-inflammatory compounds that help reduce the itching by decreasing the inflammation in the skin.
Commercial diets contain a large number of different ingredients and dogs can have an adverse reaction to individual components rather than the diet itself. More natural, holistic brands of dog food don’t not contain chemical preservatives and do not contain wheat, corn or soy which are the most common allergens. Since all commercial dog foods are highly processed regardless of brand or quality, the addition of a dog food supplement will add natural nutrition.
Resources: Guide to Skin & Haircoat Problems by Lowell Ackerman, D.V.M. The Allergy Solution for Dogs (The Natural Vet Series) by Shawn Messonnier, D.V.M
Information Disclaimer: Information provided on the Olewo Blog is intended for informational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, and is not meant to substitute for medical advice provided by your veterinarian.