Many dogs suffer from allergies, but the outwards signs are so subtle that the owners never pick up on the problem.
In this article you’ll learn about common allergies: what they are, how they affect your dogs, signs to look for, and how to treat and prevent them.
What is An Allergy?
First, let’s get into exactly what allergies are and why they cause your dogs problems. An allergy is different from a bacterial or viral infection in a few key ways. With an allergic reaction, the substance which causes the reaction is usually pretty harmless on its own. It’s actually the reaction of the dog’s own immune system to that substance which leads to problems.
If the dog’s immune system is particularly sensitive to a particular type of food or ingredient in a shampoo, for example, it causes an overreaction. The body thinks its under attack by something harmful when it really isn’t – the result is an allergic reaction.
If you don’t know what to look for, it can be pretty tough to tell the difference between allergic reactions and other types of illnesses. (In fact, even if you do know what to look for it can still be a challenge). The following tips will help you recognize symptoms of an allergic reaction and alert you that a trip to the vet may be in your dog’s near future.
The first thing you need to know is that most allergic reactions in dogs affect the skin. Symptoms such as swelling of the skin, red patches, excessive itching, hair loss – all of these can be indicators of an allergic reaction. So the first thing to do is a thorough skin check, looking for redness, lumps, bites and dry, flaky patches of skin.
You may also notice behavioral changes in your dog when she’s suffering from allergies (often this is a side effect of the discomfort she suffers from her physical symptoms). If your dog becomes suddenly aggressive, starts avoiding people or shies away from being touched, these can also be signs of an allergic reaction (especially if skin irritation symptoms are also present).
These are all relatively mild symptoms of an allergic reaction. Be aware though that an allergic reaction can also be severe and sudden, involved restriction airways, swelling in the respiratory system, and loss of consciousness. If your dog ingests a large amount substance that she is particularly allergic to, this reaction could happen in a matter of minutes. In this scenario, you need to act quickly, administer first aid and get her to a vet as soon as possible. Allergic reactions like this are not to be trifled with and can be life-threatening if not treated quickly enough.
Common Dog Allergies
There are several common causes of allergies in dogs. The following breakdown of dog allergy causes will help you narrow down what might be setting your dog off.
One of the most common causes of allergies in dogs is the inhalation of tiny dust particles of a particular substance. For example, pollen can set off ‘hayfever’ in dogs just as it does in humans.
Eating particular foods can also set off allergies – even if you haven’t fed your dog anything unusual, if she’s eaten grass or a weed she’s allergic to in the back yard, this will set off a reaction. If your dog appears to be suffering allergies and you’re puzzled as to the cause, try to see if she’s eating grass when she’s outside – this might be the culprit.
Drugs are another common cause of allergies in dogs. If your dog is already on medication prescribed by your vet, this might be at the center of the allergic reaction. If you’ve been giving your dog medication meant for humans, stop doing so immediately and see a vet. You should never try to treat a dog’s symptoms with aspirin, paracetomol or any other medicine designed for humans.
Parasites can also cause allergic reactions, in particular flea bites. If you notice flea bites on yourself or your dog, it’s important to treat the problem quickly – although they may seem relatively harmless, they can cause skin irritation and allergies and in some cases they can carry more serious diseases.
Of course, things such as soap and shampoo can also cause allergic reactions. Consider anything in your home that your dog may have come into contact with which may contain harsh chemicals. If you think it might be soap or shampoo causing the reacting, try switching to one that contains all-natural ingredients.
Hives in Dogs
Hives are a particularly common form of dog allergy, often brought on by insect bites. Hives are fairly recognizable due to the distinct symptoms – in particular, the raised bumps that pop up, usually on the dog’s face and neck. If your dog’s face is swelling up with bumps, hives may be the issue, especially if you have just given the dog a bath with a new shampoo or she has just had a round of vaccinations. Hives can also be produced by prescription medications, so if your dog starts showing symptoms you should pause any medicine she may be taking and consult a vet immediately (unless the medication is needed to control another serious condition).
Like most allergies in dogs, you should aim to figure out what is causing the hives and remove the allergen from the environment. If your dog has recently had vaccinations, return to the vet as soon as possible for a check up. Hives are usually treated with antihistamines.
The Immune System and Dog Allergies
Sometimes, a dog will seem to develop an allergic response to a food or substance that previously didn’t produce that effect. This may indicate a problem with the dog’s immune system. In a normally-functioning immune system, the dog is protecting from allergens that enter the body on a regular basis. The allergens are neutralized by the dog’s natural systems. But when the immune system is weak or starts to break down, the dog becomes more susceptible to disease and attacks from allergens.
Obviously, the most important part of treating an allergy is figuring out the cause and trying to remove it from the dog’s environment. Sometimes, however, this isn’t practical – such as in the case of a pollen allergy. And with some allergic reactions, drugs are needed to restore the dog to her normal healthy self. So let’s look at some of the medicines and treatments available for dogs with chronic and severe allergies.
Since flea allergies are the most common, let’s start with them. The most common mistake dog owners make when they’re trying to get rid of fleas is that they only treat the dog. Then, to their surprise, the fleas are still around a week later. In order to get rid of fleas, you need to not only de-flea the dog but also any other pets and often items of furniture, like the dog’s bed, or even the entire house.
There are different types of flea treatments available. Some simply require you to rub the formula into the fur and skin at the back of your dog’s neck – these don’t even require a bath or shower. Other products are a complete shampoo. There are also powders, which are used to de-flea large areas of your house. If you’ve really got a bad flea problem, you can also get a ‘flea bomb’ – these are spray canisters which you leave sitting on your floor, which will fumigate your entire house. With these flea bombs, you’ll have to vacate your house for a few hours while they do their work.
Antihistamines are the one of the most common medicines used for treating dog allergies and other skin problems. Usually they aren’t prescribed on their own but are used in addition to other medicines. You should never use an antihistamine product intended for humans – consult your vet and he or she will prescribe an antihistamine in the right dosage for your dog. The dosage depends on the particular drug and the bodyweight of your dog.
Dog Food Allergies
It’s quite possible that the cause of your dog’s allergies is her dog food itself. You have to be careful when choosing a dog food – it’s not always clear what a pre-packaged food contains, so there might be something triggering allergies which isn’t even clearly listed on the nutritional information.
Generally, dog food allergies flare up when your dog’s immune system reacts to a protein entering the body. In the normal process of digestion, proteins are broken down into parts before being absorbed into the dog’s body. In some cases, however, the body attempts to absorb proteins before they have been completely broken down – this sets off an immune system reaction which leads to the development of allergy symptoms.
Dealing with Dog Food Allergies
If you suspect your dog is suffering from food allergies, the first step is to switch to another food. If the allergies persist, you need to consider other potential causes, and also try switching to a completely home-made diet. If done properly, a home-made diet can end up being much healthier for a dog than a commercial dog food.
However, just switching to another dog food may not be enough to solve the problem. Most commercial dog foods and even home-made dog food recipes contain a mixture of vegetables, meats and grain. A standard store-bought dog food may contain any mixture of a number of different food types including egg, poultry, fish, wheat, lamb, rabbit and even soy. Any one of the ingredients in your dog’s food could be causing the problem, and chances are that ingredient will also be found in other dog foods.
It may take a few changes and some careful attention to detail to isolate exactly which ingredients or ingredients are producing the allergic reaction. Once you know, the solution is simply to ensure you never buy dog food containing the harmful ingredients.
Symptoms of Dog Food Allergies
All the common allergy symptoms listed above relating to skin irritations are common with a food allergy. Other symptoms you may notice are regular ear infections and a discharge from the ears or eyes.
Don’t get confused between allergies and indigestion. Some dogs have difficulty digesting certain types of food, and this can result in visible discomfort or pain for the animal. However, this is not the same as an allergic reaction – allergy symptoms can persist even after the allergen has been removed from the environment. If your dog can’t tolerate a particular food the problem can be solved by simply removing it from her diet.
Prevention of Dog Allergies
As an owner there are steps you can take to defend against allergies. Many of these steps relate to helping keep the dog’s immune system strong.
A balanced diet is the first step in this process. A dog which isn’t getting all the nutrients it needs in the right quantities may have a weakened immune system as a result, making her more vulnerable to allergens in the environment. There’s a double positive to learning more about your dog’s nutrition and getting her on a healthy diet, too – if her allergies are food-related, putting her on a fully balanced diet should eliminate that problem altogether.
Be aware though – switching to a completely home-made diet can have a few dangers of its own. In particular, if your dog has a hard time digesting protein, an all natural diet may actually set off an allergic reaction. Blending food before feeding it to your dog can help solve this problem.
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