After a pleasant spring day of admiring the cherry blossoms in Central Park, it is time for a good night’s rest. Your fluffy best friend jumps onto the base of the bed next to you. As you begin resting peacefully in the silence, you hear a scratch. The scratching comes and goes, enough not to bother you. Then, your dog begins licking their feet. You ask yourself if the licking and munching will ever stop. Your dog is very itchy and it is time for their sake, and yours, that you get to the bottom of this irritation. You couldn’t help but wonder: does my dog have allergies?
Scratching, licking, biting, and nibbling. All of these signs point to the first thing your veterinarian will want to rule out: allergies.
Allergies can be broken down into two primary categories:
Environmental allergy, also known as ‘atopy’
While both categories are important to know about, in this article we will focus on environmental allergies (atopy).
The diagnosis and management of allergic conditions in dogs is enough to fill a textbook (literally, it has been done). If your dog has allergies, it is crucial to discuss this with your veterinarian and know the options. The onset of environmental allergies typically occurs between 6 months and 7 years of age. Many breeds are over-represented, but ultimately no breeds are “safe”, including mixed breed dogs.
The following focuses on 5 key points that you may not know about seasonal allergies for dogs:
Allergies are a manageable disease, NOT a curable one
There is a road to good management, but there is no cure for allergies.
For seasonal flares, your dog can likely be managed with various anti-itch medications. For more severe and chronic cases, it can take 6 months to a year while working with your veterinarian to develop the best strategy for your pet.
‘Trial and error’ is necessary to see what your pet best responds to. There is no one way to treat allergies in dogs, and each pet responds differently to certain medications.
Multiple modalities of treatment are most effective
Whether your dog receives oral medications, injectable medications, or topical shampoos, a mutli-modal approach tends to work best for management of environmental allergies.
If your dog has itchy feet, make sure to use wipes to remove unwanted yeast and bacteria that can make the itching worse. If your dog itches all over, they may need an anti-itch injection. If their groin is red and inflamed, they may need an anti-inflammatory.
Some pets even develop infection of the skin (pyoderma) if the allergy is severe enough. Your veterinarian will discuss with you if oral or topical antibiotics are needed for your dog. Bacteria and yeast on the skin surface become opportunistic when an allergy flare occurs. Failure to control infection will lead to failure in the control of allergy.
Many prescribed and over-the-counter products exist. Scroll to the bottom of the article to see the list.
For mild allergy symptoms, antihistamines may work in a pinch. For significant itchiness, however, oftentimes these medications are not enough.
Your veterinarian may recommend certain antihistamines over others, depending on your dog’s clinical signs. Before grabbing the bottle of Zyrtec or Claritin, ask your veterinarian if this is best suited for your pet’s allergic signs.
Benadryl: The 1-for-1 rule
For 1 pound of body weight, your pet needs 1 milligram (mg) of Benadryl.
Ex. a 50-pound dog would need 50mg of Benadryl
While Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is also an antihistamine, it can work to settle your pet while waiting on consultation with your veterinarian.
Make sure that this is regular Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and NOT ‘Benadryl-D’, which contains a decongestant that may not be well tolerated by some dogs.
This can be given every 8 hours, though you should speak with your veterinarian if multiple doses are needed.
Preventatives matter year-round
Dogs with allergies tend to be more sensitive to flea and tick bites.
Maintaining a consistent heartworm, flea and tick preventative not only protects your pet against various diseases, but also can help control skin reactions should your pet come into contact with bugs and parasites.
In the city, fleas are a year-round risk; don’t give up on the preventatives just because it is snowing outside!
Allergies are as annoying as they are complex. Your patience will be rewarded for both you and your dog as you discover which treatments work best. Have some medicated wipes on hand to clean the feet or groin area. Make sure your box of Benadryl in the cabinet is not expired. Purchase an air purifier to reduce allergens in the home. Most importantly, don’t give up! After all, seasons change. Find a veterinarian that will work with you and your dog to strategize and develop a treatment plan best catered to your dog.
The following are just some of the options available for environmental allergy treatments in dogs: