Just like their human masters and mistresses, dogs can suffer from allergies. The underlying trigger is identical in dogs and humans. The presence of an antigen causes the immune system to react in ways designed to protect the body against these bacteria, toxins and other harmful proteins. When the body responds to essentially harmless foreign proteins in the same way, the overreaction is called an allergic response and the protein precipitating the response is called an allergen.
Canine allergies can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:
• Food: Fifteen percent of dogs with allergies have allergies that are triggered by food. Dogs can be sensitive to the proteins found in wheat, soy or corn, which are often used as fillers in commercial dog foods. Dogs can also be sensitive to beef, chicken and pork. Mold can also grow on dog food that has been stored too long. Mycotoxins suppress the immune system in both humans and canines.
Symptoms of dog food allergies include scratching of the face, feet and limbs, and licking of the anal area. Dogs with food allergies may also have more bowel movements and softer stools.
• Mold spores: Mold spores grow in damp environments with poor ventilation. Specific types of mold vary from region to region, but many can cause allergic reactions in people and dogs. In people, mold allergies primarily affect the respiratory tract. In dogs, however, a mold allergy will cause skin problems.
• Other animals: Dogs are frequently allergic to dog and cat dander, that fine, powdery residue made up of shed skin cells and saliva particulates. And just as people are allergic to dogs, dogs can be allergic to people. Dandruff, after all, is just a form of human dander.
• Pollen: Dogs can have seasonal allergies to pollen. Whereas a person with an allergy to grass pollen may sneeze a lot and develop watery eyes, a dog is more likely to manifest the allergy as a skin reaction.
• Fleas: Dogs with mild flea allergies may only experience minor itching and skin irritation. Dogs with severe flea allergies, however, can chew their skin so thoroughly in the area of a bite that they end up becoming hairless.
What Types of Dogs Develop Allergies?
Just as with humans, heredity plays a role in which dogs develop allergic reactions, and which will not. Allergic reactions are most commonly found among breeds with flat faces like pugs, bulldogs and Boston terriers. Skin allergies are frequently an inherited trait in terriers, setters and retrievers. Veterinarians and other animal experts counsel owners not to breed their dogs if they show signs of allergies.
A veterinarian must confirm canine allergies before treatment can begin. Treatment specifics will depend upon your dog’s allergy. A rigorous flea control program for all your pets, whether they stay indoors or outdoors, can ameliorate flea allergy symptoms. Dogs with food allergies must be taken off the food that causes the allergic reaction, and must be monitored carefully to make sure they don’t eat the food again.
Allergies to dust and mold spores can be controlled by ventilating moist environments, and vacuuming and dusting more frequently.
If your veterinarian has been able to identify the specific allergens your dog is reacting to, then allergy shots may be indicated. Just as with humans, allergy shots can be a very effective means of preventing the symptoms associated with allergies, but they typically take a few months before they start working.
Observation is the key to diagnosing and treating dogs with allergies. Dogs can’t communicate their discomfort directly, so their human owners must stay vigilant. Keep track of behaviors that may indicate your best friend is suffering from an allergy, and share them with your vet.