Is itch driving your pup crazy, even though you have given him flea treatment? Does he have bald spots above his bitt, and you have no idea what has caused them? The problem could be an allergy, because, yes: dogs can suffer from those too! From food allergies to flea bites: there are lots of things your dog could be allergic to. That's why we are taking a deep dive into dog allergies: which allergies are there and are they treatable?
What even is an allergy?
Simply put, an allergy is an unnecessary and adverse reaction of the immune system to a specific unharmful substance. Usually, an immune system will react as swiftly as possible to combat substances that may pose a danger to a dog's body. Viruses and bacteria are detected, and the immune system will produce antibodies to fight these invaders. In case of an allergy, the immune system gets confused and thinks that things such as pollen, flea saliva or specific animal protein are harmful invaders. The system will launch an attack on these 'invaders', but as these substances aren't dangerous to the system, that attack will result in unpleasant side effects, such as itch or hair falling out. The specific substance that sets off the immune system is called an allergen.
When you notice excessive scratching in your dog, and you suspect an allergy may be causing this, always contact your veterinarian. Together, you can figure out the cause of the allergy and determine a course of action.
Flea allergy: itch above the bum
The hot summer months present ideal conditions for fleas: high temperatures and humidity are perfect for reproduction. So there is a good chance fleas will try to invade your dog during these months. Did you know dogs can be allergic to fleas? It's the most common canine allergy. When a dog suffers from a flea allergy, they aren't allergic to the critter itself, but to the saliva that touches him when the fleas sink their teeth into the dog's skin. That means one bite is enough to set off the allergy.
A dog suffering from flea allergy will not only be much itchier than a dog that is not allergic, but he will also develop skin problems. Especially the lower back, just above the tail, is a real hotspot for itches. And because your dog will scratch himself in that spot, or maybe even gnaw his skin, the hair will fall out, and scabs will form in this area. Fortunately, a flea allergy is relatively easy to cure. You have to make sure that these pests don't stand a chance!
To start with, treat your dog all year round with flea medicine. Has your dog already had fleas? Then treat not only the dog but your home as well. The cushion, rug, sofa and his bed: anything he may have had a wee nap on! When a flea has gorged itself on your dog's blood, she will deposit her eggs on his skin—these eggs role of the dog and into, for example, the dog basket. When the eggs hatch, the new fleas will back onto your dog, and the whole cycle starts all over again! Fortunately, many environmental sprays are available to help you to make your house free of fleas.
Environmental allergy: hayfever in dogs
An environmental allergy, or atopy, is an allergy to certain substances in the environment, comparable to hay fever in humans. Just like their humans, cats can have adverse reactions to things in their environment, such as pollen, mould and dust mites. A dog suffering from atopy will experience skin issues. The dog will have an itch in the mouth area, in and around the ears, paws, armpits and the groin. Excessive scratching and licking lead to irritated, red and dry skin, scabbing and bald spots. As the resistance of the skin is weakened, there is a chance of bacterial or yeast infections (visible through bumps or zits). The auricles can become red, and even the ear canal can become inflamed.
A vet has different methods at her disposal to check what it is that your dog is allergic to, but the most commonly used is called the intradermal method. Various allergens are injected into the dog's skin, to see which one they react to.
As soon as you know what is causing your pup's allergy, there are several things you can do to ensure they no longer get adverse reactions. It's not possible to eliminate them, as that would mean locking up your pup in a sterile room! Luckily, there are other things you can do. Make sure that there are as few things as possible in the house that can hold onto allergens, such as carpet. There are anti-allergy dog baskets for sale that can be washed at a high temperature so that all fleas present are killed. You can reduce or calm the skin reactions by regularly cleaning your dog with water or mild shampoo. Nutrition or supplements with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (from fish oil) also contribute to a healthy coat and skin and can reduce itching.
Food allergy: not that protein, please!
Another type of allergy that is common in dogs is a food allergy. They won't be allergic to peanuts or shellfish, like us, but to just one specific protein that is in their meal or treat. For example, they may be allergic to beef- or chicken protein, or a specific plant-based protein, such as corn or wheat. A food allergy can develop from their second year, and it can happen suddenly. After feeding your canine friend the same food for years, he may still develop an allergy to it. This type of allergy may express itself in a full-body itch and sometimes in vomiting and diarrhoea.
To prevent this allergic reaction, you and your vet will have to collaborate to find the culprit. The vet will most likely prescribe an elimination diet, during which your dog is served meals containing a single type of protein and a single type of carbohydrate. Typically, these are not used in regular dog foods. These should be types your dog has never had before. Think rabbit and potato, or lamb and peas. As soon as the symptoms have subsided, you add an ingredient form the old diet to see whether this is the one causing the adverse reactions.
You can also choose to give your dog so-called hypoallergenic meals. These meals have only a few ingredients, to minimise to chances of adverse reactions. They usually contain only one type of animal protein. Meals by Pets Unlimited are hypoallergenic too, as they contain one animal protein, such as lamb or salmon, supplemented with rice and peas instead of grains.
From an itchy face to bald spots on the bum: an allergy can be terribly annoying for a dog. Luckily, there are loads of ways to help them, and many of those revolve around proper nutrition and care. Which, of course, is no problem at all for loving pet parents!