Please note that this blog post is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace professional opinion or advice. Please consult your vet for your pets medical and dietary needs.
Are you and your canine companion frustrated with his constant itching, licking and scratching? Have you dumped money and time into special shampoos, lotions and skin treatments for your dog only to have the cycle of itching licking and scratching return? You're not alone. Each year thousands of dogs and their families suffer the same frustrations due to undiagnosed inhalant, contact or food allergies. But there is hope. With the proper diagnosis and treatment your dog can return to his happy, healthy self.
What are the symptoms of allergies in dogs?
Dogs react differently than humans to allergens. The canine reaction is through their skin whether the trigger allergen is an inhalant, contact or food. Wondering if your canine companion could have allergies? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Does he suffer from itchy skin?
- Does he have hot spots?
- Does he lick and or chew his paws and legs?
- Does he shake his head and/or dig at his ears?
- Get frequent ear infections or have ear odor caused by a yeast infection?
- Does he have itchy, crusty skin with a greasy smelly coat?
- Does he lick and scoot his bottom but you know it's not from worms or full anal sacs?
- Has he developed sores around his mouth?
- Does your dog vomit or have diarrhea?
- Does he have lots of gas?
- Does he have more than two bowel movements a day?
- Has your dog developed unexplained behavioral problems?
- Do some of his symptoms seem to clear up while new ones come forward?
- Do his symptoms seem to clear up on antibiotics but reoccur once the antibiotics are gone?
What is the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance?
The basic difference between food allergies and food intolerance's is that, generally food allergies manifest themselves through itchy skin, ears and rears as the dog's immune system "over reacts" to the molecules in foods. Food intolerance tends to manifest itself through diarrhea and vomiting as the digestive system tries to rid itself of the offending ingredients, much like humans who may have an intolerance to spicy foods.
When do food allergies develop?
Food allergies in dogs can develop at any age and the symptoms can seem to appear over night. Generally, there is a genetic predisposition for dogs to have allergies. There is a good chance that, if a dog has inhalant or contact allergies, he could also develop a food allergy. The vast majority of dogs with food allergies developed the allergies after being fed the same ingredients for two years or more, though some dogs can develop food allergies as puppies.
What are the most common food allergy or intolerance triggers?
The most common ingredients that trigger symptoms of food allergies or intolerance's for dogs are:
- Dairy products such as milk, yogurt or cheese
- Chicken eggs
- Artificial flavorings or coloring
- Lamb (once was considered a "safe" food for dogs with food allergies, but now that it is more commonly being fed to dogs, dogs are now developing allergies to it as well)
How are allergies in dogs diagnosed?
Because allergy symptoms are very similar to other conditions, your vet will want to rule those other conditions out with an exam. In addition, he might do some skin scrapings if he suspects mange or scabies or other skin conditions. He will ask questions around your dog's environment and diet and how long your pooch has been symptomatic. If he suspects environment or contact allergies, our vet might recommend allergy tests for your pooch either through a blood test or skin testing. With the blood test, the blood is drawn and sent to a lab to look for antigen-induced antibodies. These tests are not as accurate as the skin testing, but are used if the dog's skin is too unhealthy for the skin testing, the dog is very young, the dog cannot tolerate a prolonged withdrawal from antihistamines and corticosteroids, cannot be shaved because it is a show dog or if the skin testing is not available.
If skin testing is chosen as a diagnostic tool, the dog is sedated and an area on one side of his body is shaved down to the skin. A small amount of antigen is injected into the skin of the shaved area. This is done in a specific pattern so that the diagnostician can keep track of which antigens cause reactions. This type of testing is not recommended for suspected food allergies due to the low rate of diagnostic accuracy.
Food trials are performed after other problems are properly diagnosed and treated. At this time, your pet is placed on a novel food diet for 12 weeks. This means that he will be fed only those foods sources of protein and carbohydrates that he has never eaten before, such as salmon and sweet potato or venison and rice. Or, your vet may prescribe a prepared food that has the protein and carbohydrate molecules broken down to a size that is so small that they cannot trigger an allergic reaction. Science Diet ZD is one of those prescription foods. Which ever diet is used, it is very important that that is the only thing your canine companion eats for the full twelve weeks. No matter how pitifully your pet looks at you with those "please, please" eyes, he should not have any other treats, raw hides, pigs ears, table scraps, flavored medications, flavored toothpastes, flavored toys or anything else other than his special food and water. It would be a good idea to feed your other dogs the same diet, or feed him in a different location to keep him from accidentally getting the wrong food. Also, don't let him in the area where the rest of the family is eating because even a small amount dropped on the floor or licked off a plate, a child's hands or face could defeat the special diet. Also, don't let your dog get into the litter box or roam out of your site where he could eat something you don't know about. For treats, you can try giving your pet his special food in a different form. For example, if he is on a canned food, you could freeze some in bite size pieces. Or you could mash up his dry food with some water and bake it or freeze it.
If after the 12 weeks, your canine companion is symptom free or nearly symptom free, your vet may have you try feeding your dog his regular food. If the symptoms reemerge, it's a safe bet that the culprit was one of his regular foods and your dog will be placed back on the special diet until he is once again symptom free. At this time, your vet may recommend that your dog continue on a special commercially prepared diet or a homemade diet and refer you to a veterinary nutritionist to assure that he gets the proper balance of vitamins and minerals. Then your vet might also recommend that you try introducing one new item such as chicken for 2 weeks. If symptoms reappear, the chicken is determined to be an allergen and is pulled from the diet. After those symptoms clear up, another item might be introduced in the same manner. Each one that produces symptoms is a trigger for your dogs allergies and each one that doesn't would be considered non-offending.
How are allergies in dogs treated?
In a perfect world, the best treatment would be avoidance of the allergen. But for environmental and contact allergies, that is not always possible. For those, treatments could consist of steroid, antihistamine and shampoo therapy. Another option would be hypo sensitization (allergy shots).
For food allergies and intolerances, however, avoidance of the offending agent is the only recommended treatment for the long term. That is why it is so important to read the labels for any food product that you give your four legged family members.
We at Dugan's Barkery hope this article provided some helpful information to aid you in your efforts to give your doggy companion a good life. For allergy free dog treats, please visit us at www.dugansbarkery.com