How environmental allergies can affect your dog

As temperatures are warming up around parts of the country, you’re probably taking your dog outdoors more frequently. There’s no doubt that your pet is going to be exposed to environmental allergens, which can cause a variety of hypersensitivity reactions, such as atopic dermatitis. This commonly begins in dogs from 6 months to 6 years of age. Here’s an overview of the symptoms and how atopic dermatitis is diagnosed and treated.

Signs

You may notice your dog excessively licking, chewing, scratching and rubbing certain areas of his skin. Parts of the body that can be affected might include the feet, flanks, groin, armpit, face and ears. Unfortunately, these behaviors can lead to secondary skin lesions, hair loss, abrasions, scales, crusts and darkening and thickening of the skin. A bacterial infection of the skin, yeast infection of the skin, and inflammation of the skin and outer ear and ear canal can result as well.

Diagnosis

Atopic dermatitis is diagnosed based on the clinical features present as well as ruling out other possibilities. Your veterinarian may perform allergy testing on your dog that may show sensitivity to such things as grass, weeds, trees, molds, insects or dander. This information might be used to create an allergy vaccine. The doctor may also do a skin scraping or skin cytology to rule out other causes of itchy skin.

Treatment

Preventing or controlling secondary infections are important parts of managing your dog’s condition. Your doctor may advise you to:

  • Bathe your dog every three to seven days
  • Treat both ears after every bath to help wash off pollens
  • Disinfect skin and ear canals

Treatments your doctor may prescribe include administering flea control to prevent flea bites from aggravating the itch and/or treating your dog with antimicrobial shampoos and anti-itch conditioners/sprays. These products may be applied every two to seven days or as needed to help reduce your dog’s symptoms.

Antihistamine therapy may help reduce your dog’s signs. By themselves, antihistamines are not too effective for atopic dermatitis, but they can be used alone or in combination with steroids or oral essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acid supplements can help the itching, but this may take eight to 12 weeks of therapy before you see any improvement.

You’ll want to discuss other treatment options such as steroids, cyclosporine and/or immunotherapy (allergy vaccine) with your veterinarian to understand the potential benefits, risks and side effects.