Written by Michelle Gjesdal
Allergies can be very frustrating for both pets and owners. It is usually a life long problem to manage and it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly is causing the itch. Often, it is more than just one thing that is triggering the allergic reaction. In dermatology the newest concept is that each animal has its own “Pruritic Threshold”. It is a level of immune system stimulation required to cause an ‘itchy’ response. This level varies from dog-to-dog and can be affected by the season, stress, and other environmental factors. Spring is often the worst season for dogs with environmental allergies.
When treating a dog with allergies, our goal is to lower the number of allergens that trigger the immune system and get below that threshold where we no longer see an allergic response, therefore stopping the itch. Your veterinarian will determine whether any medications will help with your dog’s condition. It is important to rule out any external parasite component (fleas, lice, mites), and treat any skin infections that can occur secondary to trauma (scratching) or simply from the skin’s integrity being compromised due to inflammation. Antibiotics and/or medicated shampoo may be prescribed.
The easiest way to reduce allergies is avoidance! This can be especially hard when we don’t know exactly what is causing the allergic response. It can also be tricky when the allergen is airborne!
Here are some tips to help ease your pet’s condition:
1) Try to avoid dust and dust mites
– Keep dogs out of the room while dusting and vacuuming
– Wash bedding weekly in hot water
– Use plastic cover over dog’s bed and mattresses
– Keep dogs off carpet and soft furniture
– Use dehumidifiers and air conditioning in the summer
– Have a dog wear a T-shirt around the house
– If you keep your dog’s food in a container, wash it out before putting new food in it
2) Try to avoid molds and pollens
– Keep dogs indoors when the lawn is being mowed and during peak pollen season
– Rinse your dog’s feet after coming inside, or put booties on your dog’s feet when going outside
– Rinse your dog off after being outdoors in high grass/pollen season
– Keep dogs out of the basement, crawl spaces and barns
– Avoid a large number of house plants
3) Avoid cigarette smoke inside the home
4) Consider other contact allergens in the house and remove them (wool blankets, cedar bed, fabric softeners/detergents, other cleaning agents)
5) Supplement diet with essential fatty acids
-Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to help with itchiness and to maintain good skin health, helping to repair the skin barrier function. Topical spot-on treatments of fatty acids and essential oils are also proven to decrease itchiness. AllerG oral capsules/liquid and Dermoscent Spot-On treatments are examples.
-Approximately 20-30% of dogs respond to antihistamine therapy. Antihistamines have fewer side effects than prescription ‘anti-itch’ medications such as cortisone and can be obtained over the counter. The most commonly recommended antihistamine is Benadryl. Your veterinarian will advise you of the proper dose and frequency to use with your dog.
7) Consider a hypoallergenic food trial
-Allergies to food are common in dogs. Even if one diet has been fed for a long time without problems, it is possible for the body to suddenly become hypersensitive to it. A strict hypoallergenic diet trial ( i.e. only one recommended diet and no treats, chews, or people food) for at least 8 weeks can help discern if food is part of the problem. Your veterinarian can recommend the best hypoallergenic diet for your dog. Most often it is a prescription diet with a novel protein (something your dog has never had before) and carbohydrate source (i.e. fish and potato, duck and rice, etc) but there may be homemade diet options for your dog as well. This is a great option as it is the easiest thing to control in your dog’s environment.
Being constantly itchy isn’t fun, and it’s important to do our best to keep our pets comfortable. Using a few of these tips can help to keep your dog’s immune system from breaching its Pruritic Threshold and causing discomfort. Your dog will appreciate the effort!