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Dogs React To Allergies With Skin Problems
By Crystel Bailey
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- See Spot scratch. See Spot chew and lick his skin.
Dogs who acts like Spot may have allergies. Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine specialists, Cory Langston, in community practice, and Juli Gunter, in veterinary dermatology, offered clues to determine if a dog has allergies.
The four types of allergies dogs suffer from are flea, food, inhalant and contact allergies. Unlike humans who react to allergens with nasal symptoms such as hay fever, dogs react to them with skin problems such as itching, chewing, hot spots and self- mutilation.
Flea allergies, which are most common in the southeastern United States, are steadily declining due to the use of veterinary prescribed flea control.
"Many owners mistakenly believe that constant licking is due to boredom or a behavioral problem, when in fact the skin of the dog is just constantly itching," Langston said.
This allergic reaction is not to the flea itself, but rather to proteins in its saliva, which means one or two fleas can make the dog itch all over. Langston said dogs usually itch the most at the rump and in the groin area.
"Though the signs highly suggest a flea allergy, if the cause is in doubt, a skin test can confirm the diagnosis," Langston said.
Gunter said if the allergic reaction is mild, flea control, oral antihistamines and special fatty acid dietary supplements may stop the itching. Steroids are required only for the most severe cases.
"Oral steroids at the proper dose can be helpful in moderate to severe cases. When used inaccurately or for a long time, steroids may cause extensive weight gain, liver and joint problems, poor hair growth, and an increase in skin infections or other infections throughout the body," Gunter said.
Symptoms of food and inhalant allergies are similar and include the dog having itchy skin, licking their front paws, rubbing their faces on carpeting and experiencing chronic ear infections.
"Owners should realize that their dog can develop allergies to certain foods over time, which means even though he does not react to beef now, he could later on become allergic to it," Gunter said.
Dogs are usually not allergic to a particular brand of dog food, but rather an ingredient, such as beef, pork, chicken, lamb, milk, eggs, fish, corn, soy or wheat.
The MSU veterinarians said to determine a food allergy by placing the dog on a trial diet for 10 to 12 weeks that consists of proteins such as fish, duck or venison and excludes all treats, flavored rawhides and bones. If the dog still reacts, try different diets. Once a food allergy has been identified, keep the dog on a special diet that eliminates that food for the rest of its life.
To identify inhalant allergies, check to see if the dog reacts to allergens year round or seasonally. If it happens year round, the dog may be allergic to mold or dust, but if the reaction is seasonal, it may be reacting to pollens. Inhalant allergies also include reactions to cockroaches, mosquitos, horse and deer flies, and house dust mites.
"As with humans, inhalant allergies should be diagnosed based on clinical signs, and either skin tests or special blood tests are used to identify the offending allergens," Gunter said.
Treatments include antihistamines and fatty acid supplements for mild allergies and desensitization shots for moderate to severe cases. If these treatments fail, steroids may be used. Sometimes the treatment may be as easy as removing an indoor plant that causes an allergic reaction.
Contact allergies with dogs, though rare, can cause their skin to become inflamed.
"Such dogs may become allergic to carpet treatments, detergents used to wash their bedding or even certain plastics," Langston said.
To solve this problem, remove the offending product. For example, dogs that react to a plastic dog dish should change to a stainless steel or ceramic food dish.
Both veterinarians recommended contacting a local veterinarian if the dog shows any of these allergic signs.
Contact: Dr. Cory Langston, (662) 325-1265 and Dr. Juli Gunter, (662) 325-9813