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Effective Treatments for Dogs with Allergic Dermatitis

At Berkeley Dog & Cat Hospital, we often see dogs suffering from "hot spots" or allergic dermatitis caused by allergens. Today, our Berkeley vets explain how to recognize the different types of allergic dermatitis in dogs and how they are treated.

Allergies & Your Dog's Health

When dogs develop allergic reactions, they often develop skin reactions or gastrointestinal symptoms, not like humans who typically develop nasal symptoms and hives. This is because, in their skin, dogs have a higher amount of mast cells that release histamines and other vasoactive substances when they encounter or are exposed to allergens. When this happens dogs can develop symptoms such as hot spots, itching and scratching, poor coat condition, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain/ discomfort, and flatulence. If your dog has thyroid disease their condition may be worsened. 

When dogs have allergic dermatitis or atopic (atopy) dermatitis, they have an inherited predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a usually harmless substance (allergen) that they are repeatedly exposed to.  Most of the time dogs start developing signs of having allergies when they are between 1 and 3 years old. Because this condition is hereditary it's seen more often in golden retrievers, Irish setters, bulldogs, most terriers, and Old English sheepdogs, however, all dogs, including mixed breeds can develop allergic dermatitis.

Common Allergies Diagnosed in Dogs

If your dog is suffering from allergic dermatitis one of the allergens below could be the cause:

Food Allergies

Even if your dog has been eating the same brand of food for months, they can suddenly develop an allergy to it. It doesn't matter if their food is the most inexpensive brand available or one that is high-quality, if they are allergic to any ingredient in their food, they can develop symptoms. However, premium dog foods sometimes don't include as many filler ingredients, which could be the source of an allergy.

Flea Allergies

When dogs have fleas and develop allergic reactions, they are actually allergic to a protein in the flea's saliva and not the flea itself. In fact, dogs that are only occasionally exposed to fleas are more likely to develop symptoms than dogs that are continuously exposed to these external parasites.

Contact & Inhalant Allergies

Similar to people, dogs can be allergic to substances such as mold, pollen, trees, weeds, and dust mites. You can figure out which one your dog may have an allergy to by paying close attention to when the symptoms develop. If your dog's symptoms are seasonal, pollen could be the culprit, and if your pooch's symptoms occur all year, they may be allergic to mold.

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

Dogs develop bacterial hypersensitivity when their immune system overreacts to the normal Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria on their skin. And, when dogs have bacterial hypersensitivity there are specific unique changes happening microscopically in the blood vessels of their skin. Your vet can diagnose this condition with a bacterial culture and by examining a biopsy sample.

Dogs that already have other conditions such as hypothyroidism, an inhalant allergy, and/or a flea allergy are more likely to develop bacterial hypersensitivity.

Diagnosing Dogs With Allergic Dermatitis

The most reliable way to diagnose dogs with an allergy is to conduct an allergy test, and there are several types of these tests available. The most common is a blood test that looks for antigen-induced antibodies in a dog's blood.

There is also intradermal skin testing, which is where a portion of a dog's skin is shaved so a small amount of antigen can be injected into it. After a designated time frame, the skin is examined for a small raised reaction so the offending allergens can be identified.

Once your dog has been diagnosed with an allergy, your vet will start developing a treatment plan.

Treating Dog Allergic Dermatitis

The specific treatment used for your dog's allergy will be determined by the specific allergen causing their symptoms. Your pup's treatment could consist of one or more of the following:

  • Immunotherapy (hypo-sensitization) can also be referred to as allergy shots. Hypersensitizing injections are specially manufactured for your dog's specific allergy in a lab and are given to your pup on a regular basis (frequency depends on your dog's specific case). While this method is often highly successful, it can take 6 to 12 months for there to be any visible improvement. 
  • Medicated baths with shampoos containing antimicrobial and antifungal agents as well as other ingredients can help soothe a dog's injured skin, reduce inflammation, and remove allergens.
  • Flea control regimes can help prevent and get rid of fleas. To keep fleas from thriving on your pet, your vet may recommend giving your dog flea medications.
  • Antihistamines might be able to help control your dog's symptoms, however, they don't always work. On the other hand, if antihistamines are effective, this is could be an affordable option that typically has a very low risk of side effects.
  • Hypoallergenic diets can either remove, replace, or reduce the food ingredient your dog is allergic to.
  • Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents should only be used to manage a dog's itching and scratching as a last resort when the allergy season is short or to relieve extreme discomfort (and in small quantities). This method can cause side effects such as increased urination, increased thirst and appetite, jaundice of the skin, and changes in behavior. Long-term use of this method could result in conditions such as diabetes or decreased resistance to infection.
  • Controlling your dog's environment could be the best way to manage your dog's allergy if you are aware of the allergen and are able to remove it or minimize your dog's exposure to it effectively. Even if your pooch is on another medication, it is still best to reduce their exposure to the allergen if possible.

Treating a Dog's Allergies With Acupuncture Therapy

In addition to the treatments listed above, veterinary acupuncture therapy could be an effective way to help treat your dog's allergic dermatitis.

This traditional method of Chinese medicine consists of placing tiny needles into the meridians of your pet's body (precise locations where blood vessels converge with nerves). These needles help promote blood flow and circulation along these meridians and support the nervous system.

This increase in circulation is able to help dogs with hot spots, granulomas, and allergic dermatitis, as well as improve healing and reduce pain which as a result can reduce a dog's itching from allergies.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Does your dog have allergic dermatitis? Contact our Berkeley vets to book an examination or acupuncture therapy for your canine companion.

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