Whether it's seasonal or all-year-round, your dog's allergies will have you itching for a solution. Allergies in people tend to affect the sinuses, while in dogs it affects the skin. There are 2 different types of allergies that dogs can suffer from: Environmental Allergies and Food Allergies.
What are the symptoms of allergies?
Allergies of any kind weaken the skin barrier, which predisposes to infections of yeast and/or bacteria. It's important to note that the clinical signs of environmental allergies and food allergies tend to present in similar ways. The symptoms of allergies are as follows:
Licking/chewing at the skin
Chronic ear infections
Also known as Atopic Dermatitis, environmental allergies are the main culprit for itchy and inflamed skin. This can be caused by pollen, grasses, house dust, house dust mites and dander. This type of allergy usually presents itself when the pet is around 1-3 years of age, but can also occur later in life as well. Environmental allergies tend to have seasonality to it; sometimes it can be worse in the spring or in the fall, but sometimes both.
How do we diagnose Environmental Allergies?
We start by performing what's called a skin cytology, where the veterinarian will look at an impression of your pet's skin underneath the microscope to determine if there is an infection present. If there is an infection, an antibiotic will be prescribed. Another diagnostic tool is sending a sample of your pets blood to a specialty lab that will test for specific allergens.
Unlike environmental allergies, food allergies can occur at any age and is a constant problem, rather than coming and going throughout the year. Both the skin and gastrointestinal tract can be affected by food allergies. While it's possible for your pet to be allergic to the corn or wheat in their food, it's most common for pets to be allergic to the protein source (chicken, beef, pork, etc.).
How do we diagnose a food allergy?
When approaching a suspected food allergy, your veterinarian will more than likely perform a food elimination trial. This involves your pet starting on a strict limited protein diet for 8 weeks, which means no additional treats or foods that could skew the results. If your pet's clinical signs improve while on the diet, they more than likely have a food allergy.
Helping you manage your pet's allergies
Once your veterinarian has identified the cause of your pets itching, recommendations will be made on how to treat. Unfortunately there aren't any cures for environmental allergies, but there are medications that are safe for long-term use that will help alleviate their symptoms. A medication called Apoquel is a tablet that can be given as needed for itching, or another option is an injection called Cytopoint that lasts for 4 - 6 weeks that relieves itching as well. Antihistamines are still an option for treatment of allergy symptoms, but they are not nearly as effective as Apoquel or Cytopoint.
As far as food allergies, finding the source of the allergy and feeding a diet that excludes that particular allergen will alleviate any food-related allergy symptoms. This new diet will need to be fed for the duration of their life to avoid flare ups.