Animals experience allergic reactions in their skin while people have sinus issues including eye irritation, sneezing and runny nose. These past few months have been especially difficult for dogs having extended allergic reactions that cause itchy red skin. With wet weather comes more insects and I have seen several dogs with hives and suspect wasp or bee stings. Most owners with allergic dogs know when seasons change, itchy red skin with hair loss will follow. Insect bites aside, the technical term for dogs allergic to environmental allergens such as pollens, grasses, molds, dust mites etc …is “Atopic Dermatitis”. These dogs have an inherited genetic predisposition for allergic reactions to a variety of components that they inhale. They also have skin barrier defects allowing more reactivity to allergens. There are complicated explanations for allergies and the “itch cycle” including activities of cytokines, t-helper cells, epidermal Langerhans cells, mast cells, and the immune system. A semester of veterinary school devoted to the topic. Simply put, dogs itch and have severe skin disease (including ear infections) because they have allergies.
There are several therapies available for allergic dogs, but allergies can only be controlled, not cured. Every dog is different, just like every person, so it takes time to determine which combination of medications, shampoos, and supplements will be beneficial and commitment because the dog’s allergies (severity/symptoms) may change with seasons. Dogs with allergies should have the following: Year round flea control, a bathing routine with a hypoallergenic (or medicated shampoo if prescribed), and if the dog has very long fur, it should be groomed regularly to keep the hair coat thinned and free of mats. Additionally, any allergic dog should be given an antihistamine on a regular basis. There are some over the counter human formulations that can be used along with the prescription strength Hydroxyzine. Please be sure to consult your veterinarian. Antihistamines are a safe, long term symptomatic treatment for itchy dogs. With allergies being so common in dogs, there are many therapies available. Some are “natural” supplements supporting the skin barrier so the allergic response is not as strong, some items are “super meds” that will make your dog good as new in a matter of days, and some are shampoos that soothe the skin. There are a lot of products on the market. If your veterinarian has recommended something that is not on this list and it works, stick with it. We also need to remember that dogs with allergies may develop secondary bacterial or fungal infections in the skin that require specific medications. There is not a right or wrong way to manage your dog’s allergies, but I recommend supplements that won’t cause side effects to give year round to prevent a bad break out during the season the dog is most likely to have a bad reaction.
So here is my list: Allergy 3 capsules by Vetoquinol, Immune Support powder and Dermal Support powder by Standard Process, Allergroom®Shampoo by Virbac, Universal Medicated Shampoo by Vetoquinol, Hydroxyzine® (antihistamine), Zyrtec® (antihistamine) , Cyclosporine (cats), prednisone (temporary), Apoquel® (dogs), Osurnia® (ear infections), Laser Therapy (ear infections), TIME and PATIENCE. Antibiotics and antifungals and other ear medications may be required depending on severity of skin disease.
If you are given a medicated shampoo from your veterinarian, make sure it sits on the hair coat for at least 15 minutes prior to rinsing. Apoquel® is advertised on television. This drug is not intended for the dog that has a minor skin rash a few times a year. This drug suppresses the immune system and is intended for use in dogs severely affected by skin allergies. There are many dogs suffering from skin allergies and many approaches to therapy and treatment. It may take time to determine what works for your dog (or cat), but there are plenty of options available that your veterinarian can help you with.