GRRMF Banner  
 
Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida, Inc
PO Box 1449, Goldenrod, FL 32733-1449
Voice Message Info Line: (407) 332-2840
Email: info@grrmf.org
GRRMF Logo  
 green paw image Home
gold paw
gold paw
gold paw
gold paw
gold paw
gold paw
gold paw
gold paw
gold paw
gold paw
     < Back to Health Facts

    
Allergies in Dogs

by Dr. Bill Ehlers, D.V.M.


"Why is my dog scratching and biting himself so much?" For a veterinarian, this is one of the most commonly asked questions. There exist many explanations including external and internal parasites, infections and allergies. In Florida, allergies are one of the most common causes of itching or pruritis (the medical term) in dogs, and goldens seem to be a highly represented breed. This article will concentrate on four allergies seen in dogs:

  1. Flea allergy
  2. Atopy
  3. Food allergy
  4. Contact allergy.
Windsor

Flea allergy dermatitis or inflammation of the skin due to an allergy to fleas is one of the most common skin diseases affecting dogs. It is a result of a reaction to the flea's saliva. A small red raised area or papule develops after a flea allergic dog is bitten which itches and may develop a crust. This is usually seen on the lower back, inner thighs, back of the hind legs and sometimes the belly area. With constant scratching and biting these areas become infected and over time the skin can become hairless, thick and dark in color. In a dog allergic to flea bites only one or two bites can cause intense itchiness. The location of the areas on the body affected, the presence of fleas or flea dirt, skin tests or blood tests may be used in combination to diagnose flea allergy. The most important part of therapy is controlling the flea population on the dog and in both the inside and outside environment. Many products have been developed especially within the past few years which help greatly with this control and have helped decrease the incidence of flea allergy.

Canine atopy is a condition caused by an allergic reaction to substances which dogs inhale or absorb through their skin. After this exposure, itchiness of the face, feet, underarms and groin are most common, but itchiness of the entire body is possible as well. Over time, redness, rawness, crusting, infection, increased coloring and thickening of the skin can result. On-going ear infections and redness of the ears can also occur. In Florida some of the substances to which dogs are allergic include fungal spores, cat dander and pollens from trees, grasses and weeds. The signs of atopy may then be seasonal but in Florida many progress from seasonal to nonseasonal. Diagnosing canine atopy can be done through skin tests and blood tests and extracts can be made for injection to hyposensitize. If the allergy is seasonal, treatment for the symptoms, such as the infection from itching and the itchiness itself may be chosen. This includes antibiotics, cortisone, antihistamines and soothing shampoos and sprays.

A nonseasonal itchy skin disorder of dogs which is not as common as atopy is food allergy. The areas of the body affected are similar to those affected by atopy, but symptomatic treatment with cortisone or antihistamine gives a poor response. The foods causing allergic response are beef, dairy, wheat, soy and sometimes poultry. The best way to diagnose this type of allergy is through using an elimination diet. This is done by feeding a balanced diet containing items to which the dog has not had previous exposure. The new diet is fed for a minimum of eight weeks and no treats, chewable flavored vitamins or chewable flavored heartworm prevention can be given over this time. Over this time, a decrease in the itchiness is looked for.

Contact allergy in dogs is not a common condition because of their protective hair coat so usually the affected parts of the body are the hairless areas. This would include the belly, bottoms of the feet and sparsely haired areas such as the underarms. An exception to this would be reactions to shampoos which would involve the entire body and contact allergy to a food bowl which would affect the front of the nose and muzzle. The areas become red and raised and itchy. Potential causes include grasses, plants, polishes, waxes and carpet products. The affected areas on the body give an indication of what to suspect as the cause and avoidance by changing the dog's environment helps to make a diagnosis.

   So as one can see, the answer to the question "Why is my dog scratching so much?" is not an easy one to answer. With time and patience a list of possible causes can slowly be eliminated until the diagnosis is made and the best possible treatment is begun.