Allergies in dogs are nothing to sneeze at.
Itchy, scratchy dogs with patches of hair missing make up a large percentage of the average veterinary clinic’s patients and often there’s no cure for what ails them.
They nibble their paws, roll and rub on the ground and dig themselves raw with their claws. And much of the time, there’s not a flea on the scene. Many itchy dogs have allergies.
We all know people with allergies. Whether sensitive to tree or grass pollen, moulds or house dust, most human allergy-sufferers aren’t scratching their skin off, they’re sneezing their heads off. Perhaps it’s a blessing that dogs don’t often get respiratory symptoms from allergies. They can’t use Kleenex, their noses are huge and most of them would be lost without a sense of smell.
However, the itchy scratchy alternative isn’t good either since very few allergy patients can be cured. Just controlling the symptoms is a challenge. Many are doomed to a lifetime of taking the anti-inflammatory prednisone which can cause a host of side-effects, but at least offers relief. Occasionally antihistamines are helpful, but be sure to talk to your vet before giving a pet any medications.
We also often load up allergic dogs with essential fatty acid supplements such as salmon oil which seems to damp down the itching a bit.
If the condition is bad enough, a blood test might be done to find out what allergens are involved and we’ll usually get a list of more than a dozen culprits. All the usual suspects can cause allergies in dogs – pollen, dust, cats. It’s the same list as for people and dogs can be given “allergy shots” just like we get. Sometimes they help.
I feel as sorry for the owners of these pets as I do for the dogs themselves. It’s a frustrating and often lifelong problem. Although there is evidence that allergies have a large hereditary component in dogs, it’s hard to know which puppies will develop problems down the road. Some breeds such as Westies, WheatenTerriers, Labs and Golden Retrievers seem to be afflicted more than others, but none are immune.
It’s enough to make you pull your hair out.
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Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital