How To Tell If Your Dog Has Allergies

How Do I Know if My Dog Has Allergies?

We adopted a beautiful 10-month-old Golden Retriever from the Montreal SPCA a year ago. We are delighted with our adoptee! He is part of the family!

The only concerns we have are some skin problems. He has hot spots, ear mites, otitis, etc. I’ve always had Labs and have been lucky — no problems.

But what can we do to reduce the incidence of skin issues? It is almost every month we have to see the vet.

  1. Allergies to things they are inhaling, such as pollen or ragweed. This is known as “atopy.”
  2. Allergies to things that they are eating, more intuitively called “food allergies”.

If your dog is constantly scratching, licking their paws, or rubbing their face and ears on the furniture or carpet, they may suffer from allergies. Unlike similar allergies in people, dogs manifest these allergies in the form of skin problems.

The skin inflammation caused by allergies leads to secondary problems, such as superficial bacterial infections, hot spots, repeat ear infections, and sometimes anal-gland infections. While these secondary problems or symptoms often get noticed and can usually be cleared up with appropriate treatment, they tend to recur if the underlying allergic issue(s) are not addressed.

I would encourage you to speak with your regular vet and consider pursuing a referral to a veterinary dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment of your dog’s allergies. But here is a very brief Dog Allergies 101:

Dogs can be atopic (allergic to airborne substances such as pollen or dust mites), food allergic (reacting to ingredients in their food), or (for an unlucky few) both. Atopic allergies are generally more challenging to diagnose and treat than food allergies. And while there is no cure for either type of allergy, both can be managed with medication and dietary changes.

Dog Allergies: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

  • Because dogs with atopy are frequently allergic to pollens and grasses, they often have a seasonality to their symptoms but can show signs all year long if they are allergic to something that is always in the environment (such as dust mites).
  • Treatment of atopy centers around reducing exposure to the allergens, symptomatic treatment, and/or immunotherapy “allergy shots” like those people often require.
  • Some dogs have relatively mild, seasonal symptoms that can be managed with bathing and medications (such as omega-3 fatty acids and antihistamines, with the occasional use of steroids), while other dogs have more severe symptoms or suffer year-round and really benefit from the allergy shots.
  • The only way to truly diagnose atopy and determine what a dog is allergic to is to perform skin testing (again, like in people), and these results can be used to determine what to put in the allergy shots.

Dog Food Allergies – What You Need To Know

  • For food allergies, diagnosis and treatment go hand in hand, and most vets will try to definitely rule out a food allergy before pursuing things like skin testing.
  • Because dogs can be allergic to even tiny amounts of the offending foodstuff, your vet will want to get a very detailed dietary history for you dog – including the ingredient lists for all the foods and treats you regularly give him.
  • Food allergies are diagnosed through something called an “elimination trial” or a “novel protein diet trial” – your vet will suggest a diet made of ingredients that your dog has not been regularly exposed to. You will feed that diet (and here’s the hard part – only that diet!) for a period of 4-12 weeks. Dogs with a food allergy to something that they were previously eating will improve with the diet change, and if you go back to feeding the old diet, their clinical signs will recur.
  • Once you get the diagnosis, treatment is straightforward. Don’t let the dog eat what he is allergic too. Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever lived with a dog knows, that is easier said than done!

If you think your dog has skin allergies, you’re not alone. Chronic skin issues can be tricky to diagnose, a natural source of frustration for you, and very uncomfortable for your dog. If you think your dog has skin allergies, a veterinarian with special training will be most equipped to handle a case like this.

There are many possible causes of chronic skin problems in dogs, so it’s essential to work with a veterinarian to get to the bottom of what’s happening. Allergies are just one possibility, and many others need to be considered. A thorough history and physical examination are vital in making a diagnosis. Your veterinarian may also recommend allergy testing or other diagnostic tests such as skin biopsies.

With proper diagnosis and treatment, most dogs with chronic skin problems can live happy and comfortable lives. If you think your dog may have an allergy, talk to your veterinarian about the best way to proceed.

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