Canine atopic dermatitis also known as “allergies” is an inflammatory, chronic skin disease in dogs. Dog dermatitis is the second most common skin disease for dogs and affects one in every six dogs. These “allergies” are caused by environmental factors such as grass, mold, mites, weeds, trees, reactive foods, or soaps and other products used by humans.
What Causes It?
As mentioned above, dog allergies can be cause by pollens and the environment, but may also be based in a genetic predisposition to allergic reactions. The reaction is caused by an inappropriate immune reaction to allergens in the environment. So, while you may be able to eliminate triggers, some cases are not preventable and may only be treated.
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
The reactions and physical presentation of the allergies will become progressively worse over time. If the dog is reacting to certain pollens, the reaction may become more apparent in different seasons. You will likely be able to tell if your dog needs further examination by paying attention to the frequency of itching, scratching, rubbing or licking. The most common symptom is chronic itching, and common areas to be scratched or bitten are the ears, wrists, muzzle, underarms, groin, around the eyes and in between the toes.
How is it Diagnosed?
By observing and examining your dog regularly, you will likely be able to tell when your dog needs to go in. Your vet will rely on your observations and will likely make their own physical examination. If allergies are indicated, the vet may perform further testing such as serologic allergy testing, intradermal testing, or percutaneous prick testing (PPT). Serologic is not very reliable, intradermal is uncomfortable to the dog, and PPT is a relatively new technology.
You may want to research vets that are familiar with PPT if you get to the point of needing testing. It is less invasive and more accurate, but will not do any good if your vet is unfamiliar or unpracticed in the procedure. The injections are developed based on skin prick tests. Your dog will be injected with the pollens or other allergens purposefully to help them develop a sort of immunity to the allergens.
How is it Treated?
You and your vet will come up with a treatment plan together. This may include changing food or soaps, giving a regular anti-inflammatory medication, topical therapy such as creams or medicated shampoos and conditioners, antibacterial or antifungal medications, or immunotherapy injections developed through allergy testing. There are many options and most are self-explanatory. The injections will be developed specifically for your dog based on the reactions measured through serologic or PPT testing.
Is Prevention Possible?
Many dogs that present with regular allergy symptoms will have a genetic predisposition to allergic reactions. Their reactions are manageable, but not preventable. Environmental factors such as foods and shampoos can easily be changed. Your dog may even react to your perfumes or household cleaners. Those are also easily changed.
No matter your dog’s genetics or symptoms, they will likely be manageable with a visit to the vet and the development of a treatment plan. Though it may seem simple to treat your dog on your own, it is important to have your vet clued in so that you can take advantage of the latest treatments and ensure there has been an accurate diagnosis.