The arrival of spring means rain showers, blossoming flowers and greening landscapes. And if you have allergies, you know what else spring brings: allergy season. Just like people, dogs may suffer from environmental allergy symptoms. Read on to learn how to spot the signs of allergies and what steps you can take to provide some relief to your pet.
Spotting the signs
Dogs with environmental allergies — what your veterinarian may call atopy or atopic dermatitis — typically have skin problems that result from itching. Excessive scratching anywhere on the body, relentless licking or chewing of the feet, front legs or abdomen, and frequent rubbing of the face, eyes or ears are all signals your pet may be experiencing allergies. These behaviors can lead to skin trauma such as scrapes and scabs, hair loss, abnormal body odor, and bacterial and yeast infections. It’s often this skin damage combined with constant scratching that catches your attention and causes you to question whether something is wrong with your dog. Chronic ear infections can also indicate your dog suffers from environmental allergies.
Any dog of any breed can be allergic to a wide variety of substances, called allergens, in their environment. The most common environmental allergens include pollen from grasses, weeds and trees; molds; house dust and house dust mites. Allergies typically develop in dogs between the ages of three months and three years. And while some dogs may experience seasonal allergies, others suffer year-round.
If you suspect your dog has allergies, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, who will ask you to complete a detailed history about your pet’s skin issues, conduct a physical examination and perform tests to exclude potential causes for your dog’s symptoms. Your veterinarian might also refer your dog to a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing, which can help identify the allergens to which your dog may be reacting. Once the cause of your pet’s allergies is determined, your veterinarian will be able to recommend treatment options.
Managing allergy signs
While allergies can’t be cured, their signs and symptoms can be managed to make your pet more comfortable. Managing allergies in dogs is similar to managing allergies in people and includes three options:
- Give allergy shots (immunotherapy vaccines), which are designed to improve your pet’s tolerance of specific allergens.
- Control itching through medications and topical products such as medicated shampoos, cream rinses and sprays.
- Avoid, or at least minimize exposure to, allergens.
Often, your veterinarian will recommend a combination of approaches to help ease your dog’s itchiness. One key to managing allergy signs is following your veterinarian’s directions. If allergy shots will be given, follow the dosing schedule recommended by your veterinarian. The same advice applies to administering medications.
Other at-home steps you can use to make your dog more comfortable during allergy season include:
- Fill up the bathtub more often. Frequent baths using a mild hypoallergenic shampoo and cool water, followed by an anti-itch cream rinse, can help soothe your dog’s skin.
- Wipe those feet! When dogs come in from outside, consider rinsing their lower legs and feet with water to remove dirt and allergens.
- Vacuum frequently, change your home’s furnace filter regularly and consider an air purifier. Cleaning your home regularly and often during allergy season, especially those areas where your pet spends a lot of time, can help reduce allergen exposure. Routinely replacing the furnace filter and using an air purifier can help remove allergens and dust from the air.
Good nutrition may help relieve the itchiness of environmental allergies for some — but not necessarily all — dogs. Omega fatty acids, some of the building blocks of fat in the body and found in some foods, are important for healthy skin and an optimally functioning immune system. Diets that control the quantity and ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids provide the nutrients needed for immune system and skin health while also helping to reduce the effects of the substances responsible for itching. For dogs with environmental allergies, look for a diet that has greater than 10 percent fat and a blend of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. High-quality foods often have omega-6:omega-3 ratios that fall between 5:1 and 10:1. Some specialty diets may have even higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids for a ratio between 1:1 and 5:1.
In addition to omega fatty acids, pet foods offering a different combination of ingredients and probiotics may be beneficial for dogs with environmental allergies. Limiting the number of different protein sources can help lower your dog’s overall exposure to allergens, including environmental ones, and decrease stress on the immune system. Feeding a dog food containing probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, can directly and positively affect the part of the immune system associated with the gastrointestinal tract and decrease growth of “bad” bacteria.
Many of the Diamond Naturals dry dog foods contain a moderate amount of fat, optimal omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio and guaranteed probiotics. Read more about Diamond Naturals dog foods to find out if one is right for your pet. You can also check out the Diamond Formula Finder for more information.
Before making any big changes to your dog’s diet, be sure to consult your veterinarian to ensure all of his nutritional needs are met.