The scratching dog is a complicated problem that involves many factors, but the starting point is almost always an allergy.
What are allergies?
An allergy is an abnormal reaction to common substances such as dust, pollen, fleas, grasses or certain foods. The allergic reaction in dogs is triggered by exposure to these agents through inhalation. contact with the skin or via ingestion. After becoming sensitized to an offending allergen, the dog is likely to remain so for the rest of its life. Thus allergy control is the answer rather than a cure.
Do all dogs develop allergies?
It is possible for all dogs to exhibit allergies. Statistics show that 15-20% of dogs experience allergy disorders. Certain breeds, however, have been reported to be more likely to develop them.
What are the signs?
Dogs rarely experience the sneezing and watery eyes associated with allergies in humans. Instead, the most common allergic signs in dogs include repetitive scratching, licking or biting of a localized area of the body. This may lead to hair loss, scaly skin and even open sores.
What types of treatment are available?
A variety of treatments are available to control allergy. The most obvious of these is avoidance of the allergen. That’s easy to say but often very hard to do because either we don’t know what the dogs are allergic to, or it is actually impossible to avoid completely what they are allergic to. i.e. the grass in the backyard or the neighbours flowering tree.
The use of anti-allergy drugs can also be useful. In humans, antihistamines are commonly used and very effective for allergy relief. in dogs, unfortunately, they are much less effective with only about 1/3 of dogs getting any relief at all.
The most effective treatment is corticosteroids such as prednisolone and these can be in the form of topical cream, tablets or injections which give immediate relief but have side effects if used long term.
Good quality diets, low allergenic diets, regular bathing in medicated shampoos, control of secondary bacterial and fungal infections of the skin and 100% flea control are important measures that will reduce the effects of allergies in your dog by keeping their skin healthier.
What is Immunotherapy?
This type of therapy inhibits the ability of antibodies to cause an allergic reaction. The principal mechanism involves lowering the patient’s sensitivity to offending allergens by injecting the patient routinely with a series of a low dose of an allergenic extract, much like a vaccine. First the patient is allergy tested and then the vaccine is formulated specifically for those particular allergies. The prescription dose is gradually increased over a period of time until a maintenance level is attained and symptoms are relieved.
Each dogs response to immunotherapy is unique, and the length of time necessary for improvement and the amount of improvement varies accordingly.