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How to Help a Dog With Allergic Dermatitis

Many pet parents bring their dogs to Crestview Animal Hospital & Emergency concerned about itchy skin and irritated patches known as hot spots caused by allergies. Here, our vets in Cumming share the different types of allergies and how allergic dermatitis in dogs can be treated.

What is dermatitis (hot spots) in dogs?

Dogs with allergies most commonly display symptoms that affect their skin or gastrointestinal system. This is because dogs' skin contains more mast cells, which release histamines and other vasoactive substances when they encounter or are exposed to allergens.

Dogs may experience hot spots, itching and scratching, a shaggy coat, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain/discomfort and flatulence. If your dog suffers from thyroid disease, his condition may worsen.

Some dogs suffering from allergic dermatitis or atopic dermatitis (atopy) have a hereditary predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a generally harmless substance (allergen) to which they are repeatedly exposed. when a dog has an allergy the initial signs usually appear when they are between one and three years old. As the condition is hereditary, it is more common in golden retrievers, Irish setters, bulldogs, most terriers, and English sheepdogs, but all dogs, including mixed breeds, can develop allergic dermatitis.

Types of Allergies That Cause Allergic (Atopic) Dermatitis in Dogs

Here are some of the most commonly seen types of allergies that can affect dogs:

Food Allergies

It's important to note that your dog can develop an allergy to the brand of food they have been eating for months. This could happen regardless of whether they consume an expensive or cheap brand. If any ingredient in their food triggers an allergic reaction, your dog will experience symptoms. However, premium dog foods tend to contain fewer filler ingredients, which could be the source of an allergy.

Flea Allergies

Dogs can develop allergic reactions when fleas bite them, but they are allergic to a protein present in the flea's saliva rather than the flea itself. Interestingly, dogs occasionally exposed to fleas are more likely to show symptoms than those constantly exposed to these external parasites.

Contact & Inhalant Allergies

Dogs, like humans, can be allergic to things like mold, pollen, trees, weeds, and dust mites. Pay close attention to when the symptoms appear to determine which one your dog may be allergic to. If your dog's symptoms are seasonal, pollen may be to blame, but if they occur all year, they may be allergic to mold.

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

When a dog's immune system reacts excessively to the normal Staphylococcus bacteria on its skin, it develops bacterial hypersensitivity. This condition causes specific changes in the blood vessels of the dog's skin at a microscopic level. To diagnose bacterial hypersensitivity in dogs, a bacterial culture and examination of a biopsy sample can be done by a veterinarian. Dogs that have pre-existing conditions such as hypothyroidism, inhalant allergy, and/or flea allergy are more susceptible to developing bacterial hypersensitivity.

Diagnosing Dermatitis in Dogs

Dogs displaying signs of allergies can be diagnosed using an allergy test. Different types of allergy tests are available, but the most common one is a blood test that examines a dog's blood for antigen-induced antibodies.

Another method is intradermal skin testing, which involves shaving a portion of a dog's skin to inject a small amount of antigen into it. After a certain period, the skin is examined to identify the allergens through a small raised reaction. Once the allergen has been diagnosed your vet will develop an allergy management plan to help prevent the symptoms and improve your dog's quality of life.

Treatment for Dogs With Allergic Dermatitis

If your dog has skin allergies, their treatment will be determined by the particular allergen causing their symptoms. some of the common treatment options for allergies in dogs include:

  • Immunotherapy (hypo-sensitization) can also be referred to as allergy shots. Hypersensitizing injections are specially manufactured in a lab for your dog's specific allergy and are given to your pup regularly (frequency depends on your dog's specific case). While this method is often highly successful, it can take 6 to 12 months for there to be any visible improvement. 
  • Medicated baths with shampoos containing antimicrobial and antifungal agents and other ingredients can help soothe a dog's injured skin, reduce inflammation, and remove allergens.
  • Flea control regimes can help prevent and get rid of fleas. Your vet may recommend giving your dog flea medications to keep fleas from thriving on your pet.
  • Antihistamines might be able to help control your dog's symptoms. However, they don't always work. On the other hand, if antihistamines are effective, this could be an affordable option that typically has a very low risk of side effects.
  • Hypoallergenic diets can either remove, replace, or reduce the food ingredient your dog is allergic to.
  • Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents should be used as a last resort to manage a dog's itching and scratching when the allergy season is short or to relieve extreme discomfort (and in small quantities). This method may result in increased urination, increased thirst and appetite, skin jaundice, and behavioral changes. Long-term use of this method may result in diabetes or decreased resistance to infection.
  • Controlling your dog's environment could be the best way to manage your dog's allergy if you are aware of the allergen and can remove it or minimize your dog's exposure to it effectively. Even if your pup is on another medication, reducing their exposure to the allergen is still best if possible.

Acupuncture Therapy to Treat Skin Allergies in Dogs

For many dogs, veterinary acupuncture therapy can be an effective way to treat allergic dermatitis. This traditional method of Chinese medicine consists of placing tiny needles into the meridians of your pet's body (precise locations where blood vessels converge with nerves). These needles help promote blood flow and circulation along these meridians and support the nervous system.

This increase in circulation can help dogs with hot spots, granulomas, and allergic dermatitis, as well as improve healing and reduce pain which as a result can reduce a dog's itching from allergies.

At Crestview Animal Hospital & Emergency, we feel that the best results are achieved by using acupuncture as a supplement to other medical therapies. This helps to manage pain, reduce inflammation and restore your dog's health and vitality.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you are concerned that your dog may be suffering from allergies or hot spots, contact our Cumming vets to schedule an appointment.

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Crestview Animal Hospital & Emergency is always welcoming new patients! Our Cumming vets provide veterinary services designed to promote good health and longevity. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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