Pollen from grasses, weeds and trees are a well-known cause of the collar jangles in dogs with allergies. But did you know that your home can be a source of allergens as well? And some of them are so small, you can’t see them.
Fleas, Bees, Bites and Mites
Fleas are irritating pests for all dogs, but some dogs are also allergic to fleas. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is the most common skin condition in dogs and is caused by exposure to allergens in flea saliva. Just one flea bite can cause an allergic reaction in genetically predisposed dogs. However, FAD can easily be prevented by eliminating fleas from your dog and their environment (e.g., bedding, couch, other pets).
Hopefully you don’t have bees, wasps or other stinging insects inside your house very often, but it’s worth mentioning them here because they can cause allergic reactions. Just like in people, some pets are more sensitive to insect stings than others. Rarely, a sting from one of these insects can result in anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if it’s not treated. Or your dog may develop hives after a sting or facial swelling (e.g., lips, eyelids, ear flaps), which is serious but not usually fatal. Hives and swelling can be treated with an antihistamine injection by your veterinarian.
House dust mites can cause an allergic reaction in dogs — and people. As the name suggests, they live in dust and feed off organic matter like the dead skin cells we shed. These microscopic relatives of ticks and chiggers don’t actually bite; it’s the protein from dust mite feces and dead dust mites that cause the allergic reaction. It’s another good reason to keep your house dusted and your dog’s bedding clean!
Plain old dust (without the dust mites) can also be an allergen source, as can mold spores. The mold may be from the house itself (walls, basement, etc.) or from another source inside the house, like potting mix in indoor plants. These indoor plants could also be the source of a second allergen if they have pollen-releasing flowers.
Another airborne allergen is smoke. Any type of smoke, whether it’s from tobacco, cooking (burning) dinner or a fireplace, can cause an allergic reaction. Smoke can cause atopic dermatitis and irritate a dog’s respiratory system, which may cause asthma.
When the Blankie Itches
Other possible allergens in the house are the items your dog comes in contact with, either directly or indirectly. This could include laundry detergent, some fabrics (like wool), cleaning products and certain chemicals (often associated with fragrances). Switching to all-natural, fragrance-free versions of detergents or cleaning products may help.
Food Allergies Are Actually Rare
One of the most frequently discussed allergies in dogs is a food allergy. However, it is not as common as you might think for a dog to have a true food allergy that involves activation of the immune system. In most cases, the reaction to a particular food is an intolerance, not an allergy. When it is an allergy, typically it’s the protein in the food that triggers the allergic reaction, most commonly beef, dairy products or wheat, but also lamb, chicken, eggs and soy. If your veterinarian suspects an adverse reaction to food, they may recommend an elimination diet to help determine which ingredient your dog is allergic (or intolerant) to.
Stopping the Never-ending Itch
Dogs experiencing an allergic reaction to something in their environment will often have itchy skin and ears. And they will scratch, lick, chew, scoot or rub — basically trying anything and everything — to get rid of the itch. This can often cause damage to their skin, which leads to sores, scabs, hair loss and possibly secondary bacterial or fungal infections (including ear infections).
If you suspect your dog is allergic to something, your veterinarian can help determine which allergen is the cause of the symptoms and recommend the most appropriate treatment for the allergy (or allergies, as dogs can often have more than one). Treatment may include allergy shots, medications and topical products, nutritional support and reduced exposure to the allergen.
A Sensitive-Skin Diet May Help
The itchiness of an environmental allergy may be reduced for some dogs (but not all) by feeding a diet that supports healthy skin and an optimally functioning immune system. Sensitive-skin diets are often formulated with a limited number (one or two) of sources of protein and an appropriate ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Limiting the protein sources can lower your dog’s overall exposure to potential allergens and decrease stress on the immune system. Controlling the quantity and ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids provides the essential fatty acids needed by the skin and immune system while helping to reduce the effects of the substances responsible for itching. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian first before making any diet changes.
The list of potential allergens inside the home is long. Add the allergens outside the home (that’s you, pollen), and it can take some sleuthing to work out what it is your dog is allergic to. However, your veterinarian can help you uncover the source of your dog’s symptoms, including confirming it is an allergic reaction, and the appropriate methods to manage the allergy.
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