Allergic skin disease is a common problem in dogs. It has a genetic basis with some breeds being more prone than others, particularly:
- Labrador Retriever
- West Highland White Terrier
- Shar Pei
Allergic skin disease causes an intense itch which can be severely damaging to a dog’s quality of life, as well as affecting their owners.
Allergies are caused when a dog’s immune system has an abnormal (overly sensitive) reaction to a particle known as an allergen.
There are 4 main categories of allergic skin disease:
- flea allergy – dogs react to allergens in the flea saliva
- seasonal atopic dermatitis – usually due to seasonal allergens such as pollen
- non-seasonal atopic dermatitis – usually due to other environmental allergens such as house dust mites
- food-related atopic dermatitis – caused by a sensitivity to allergens within the food – most often the protein component of the food
What are the signs of allergic skin disease?
Environmental allergies normally start when a dog is between 6 months and 3 years of age.
Flea allergies and food allergies can develop at any age.
The first sign of allergic skin disease is normally a dog scratching or licking excessively. The areas affected most commonly are the ears, paws and rear end.
If untreated, other signs will develop:
- redness of the skin
- hair loss
- thickening of the skin
- smelly skin
- blackening of the skin
How will my vet diagnose allergic skin disease?
Allergic skin disease cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or hair sample so anywhere offering this is a complete waste of money. Sometimes a blood test will be used to check for other underlying problems, or to help formulate a treatment, but it will not diagnose an allergic problem in the first place.
Allergic skin disease is what is known as a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that other causes must be ruled out first. These include:
- Parasites such as fleas and mites
- Fungal infection such as ringworm or yeast infections
- Bacterial skin infections
- Autoimmune skin diseases
- Other underlying health problems such as Cushings disease
- skin scrapes, hair plucks and coat brushings to check for parasites
- tape strips or ear swabs to check for bacteria and yeasts
- bacterial or yeast culture
- skin biopsies
- blood tests to check for underlying disease
How is allergic skin disease treated?
Allergic skin disease is a life-long condition are there is no complete cure. It can, however, be managed successfully to help your dog enjoy a good quality of life.
There are several parts to successful treatment:
- Treating any secondary infections or ‘flare factors’ – this will involve regular parasite control and may involve antibiotic treatment and antifungal treatment
- Controlling the itch and reducing skin inflammation – there are various different options available for this and your vet will be able to advise you on the most appropriate one for your dog
- Improving and maintaining the skin barrier function – improving the general health of the skin will help to reduce its sensitivity to allergens. This can involve moisturising baths and dietary supplements.
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