In developed countries such as Australia allergic diseases are among the fastest growing chronic conditions. They are the cause of a significant increase in hospital admissions of people over recent years, and it is not surprising that the species that lives most closely with us, dogs, is following the trend.
Allergic, or atopic, dermatitis is one of the most common allergic diseases in dogs. It is caused by an allergic reaction to things that are normally harmless – and are hard to avoid - such as grass, dust mites and pollen. These same allergens are often responsible for conditions such as hay fever and asthma in humans, and repeated exposure in dogs can lead to a chronic inflammatory skin disease.
Allergies are just as common in pets as they are in humans and similarly they can cause significant suffering, however unlike humans, dogs are less likely to overcome allergies over time. Symptoms in dogs include itching and excessive scratching and grooming, watery eyes, sneezing, and flaky skin. You might observe your dog rubbing on the carpet, or chewing affected areas such as around their groin and belly, and under their armpits. Over time this can lead to hair loss and the skin that is constantly scratched can develop raw and inflamed areas, or “hot spots”, that may become infected.
Signs of the disease usually show up between the ages of three months and six years, and once dogs develop atopy they usually suffer increasingly over time as their skin becomes more sensitive. Atopic dermatitis may be mild in the animal’s first year and therefore go undetected, but it usually becomes apparent before three years of age. Unfortunately for some dogs the allergy can become a year-round problem even though it may have started as a seasonal problem.
Allergies are more prevalent in some breeds than others and the breeds that are more prone are Boxers, Bulldogs, Labradors, Pugs, and Terriers. While dogs are the species most likely to suffer, the disease can also affect cats. Dermatitis in cats commonly appears around their ears, eyes, muzzle, underarms and groin, wrists and between the toes.
If your dog or cat shows signs of allergic dermatitis, they should be seen by a vet who will make a diagnosis through observation and will rule out other causes such as food and parasites. Some relief for the itching might be provided topically by medicated shampoos. Also, as with treatment of allergies in humans, antihistamines and steroids can help in controlling the disease. Antibiotics might be prescribed in some cases where skin has become infected.
If the allergies persist, injections made from allergens that your pet is sensitive to can be given with the objective of desensitising your pet to the allergy. It is also important to minimise your pet’s exposure to the allergens if possible although this is not always practical or achievable.
The incidence of allergic dermatitis in dogs is increasing and managing this lifelong condition requires patience and often some trial and error. By reducing your pet’s exposure to allergens and testing various combinations of therapy, you can help your pet look and feel their best. If you have any questions about the diagnosis or treatment of allergic dermatitis, or to arrange an examination for your pet, contact any of the Vets4Pets clinics.
Next time your dog looks at you with those big brown eyes… and they’re watering… and his cute little nose is dribbling, remember that he could be suffering from an allergy. He doesn’t have the benefit of being able to reach for a Kleenex as we do, so keep an eye out for the symptoms mentioned above and don’t hesitate to take him to see the vet. Those of us who’ve suffered with allergies will appreciate how important it is that our pets get relief from them as well.