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How to Help a Dog with Allergic Dermatitis

At Temple City Animal Hospital, we often see dogs suffering from "hot spots" or allergic dermatitis caused by allergens. In this post, our San Gabriel vets list the different types of allergic dermatitis in dogs and how acupuncture therapy and other treatments can be used to manage and heal this condition.

Allergies & Your Dog's Health

Allergic reactions often lead to skin conditions or gastrointestinal symptoms in dogs (this is in contrast to people, who typically develop nasal symptoms and hives as a result of allergic reactions). 

This is because dogs have a higher amount of mast cells in their skin than humans do. These cells release histamines and other vasoactive substances when they encounter or are exposed to allergens. When this occurs, dogs may develop symptoms such as hot spots. The condition of their coat may deteriorate and you may notice your dog scratching as a result of itchy skin. They may also suffer from diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain or discomfort, and flatulence. If your dog has thyroid disease, this condition may worsen. 

When dogs have allergic dermatitis or atopic (atopy) dermatitis, they have an inherited predisposition to develop allergy symptoms to a usually harmless substance (allergen) that they are exposed to repeatedly. Typically, dogs with allergies start to develop symptoms when they are between one and three years old. Since this condition is hereditary, it's seen more often in golden retrievers, bulldogs, Irish setters, Old Engish sheepdogs, and most terriers. However, all dogs, including mixed breeds, can develop allergic dermatitis. 

Common Allergies Diagnosed in Dogs 

If your dog is suffering from allergic dermatitis, your pooch's skin problems may be caused by one of the allergies listed below. 

Flea Allergies 

Dogs with fleas can develop allergic reactions. These pups are actually allergic to a protein in the flea's saliva, not the flea itself. In fact, dogs that are only occasionally exposed to fleas are more likely to develop symptoms than dogs that are continually exposed to these external parasites. 

Food Allergies

Even if your dog has been eating the same brand of food for months, they may suddenly develop an allergy to it.The quality of the food doesn't appear to factor into whether a dog will develop a food allergy. If your pup is allergic to any ingredient in their food, they can develop symptoms. However, premium dog foods sometimes don't include as many filler ingredients, which may be the source of an allergy. 

Contact & Inhalant Allergies 

Sunukar to people, dogs may be allergic to substances such as dust mites, weeds, trees, mold, and pollen. You may be able to figure out which one your dog may have an allergy to by paying close attention to when and what time of year the symptoms develop. If your dog's symptoms are seasonal, pollen may be the cause. However, if your pooch's symptoms occur year-round, they may be allergic to mold. 

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity 

When a dog's immune system overreacts to the normal Staphylococcus (staph) bacteria on their skin, they can develop bacterial hypersensitivity. This causes specific, unique microscopic changes in their skin's blood vessels. Your vet can diagnose this condition by taking a bacterial culture and examining a biopsy sample. 

Dogs that have pre-existing conditions such as an inhalant allergy, hyperthyroidism, and/or a flea allergy are more likely to develop bacterial hypersensitivity. 

Diagnosing Dogs with Allergic Dermatitis 

Allergy tests are the most reliable method for diagnosing allergies in dogs. Several types of these tests are available. The most common is a blood test, which looks for antigen-induced antibodies in a dog's blood. 

Your vet may also recommend intradermal skin testing. During this test, a portion of a dog's skin is shaved so a veterinarian can inject a small amount of antigen. After a designated time frame, your vet will examine the skin for reactions, so the offending allergens can be identified. 

Once your dog's blood and/or skin has been tested for allergies, your vet can develop a treatment plan. 

Acupuncture Therapy to Treat Dogs with Allergic Dermatitis 

For many dogs, veterinary acupuncture therapy can be an effective way to treat allergic dermatitis.

This traditional method of Chinese medicine consists of placing tiny needles into the meridians of your pet's body (precise locations where blood vessels converge with nerves). These needles help promote blood flow and circulation along these meridians and support the nervous system.

Owners of dogs with allergies often find the increase in circulation helps to improve symptoms and appearance of hot spots, granulomas, and allergic dermatitis on their pup's skin. Acupuncture therapy treatment can also help to heal and reduce pain and itchiness. 

Other Treatments for Allergic Dermatitis in Dogs

The specific treatment used for your dog's allergy will be determined by the specific allergen causing their symptoms. Your pup's treatment could consist of one or more of the following:

  • Immunotherapy (hypo-sensitization) can also be referred to as allergy shots. Hypersensitizing injections are specially manufactured for your dog's specific allergy in a lab and are given to your pup on a regular basis (frequency depends on your dog's specific case). While this method is often highly successful, it can take 6 to 12 months for there to be any visible improvement. 
  • Medicated baths with shampoos containing antimicrobial and antifungal agents as well as other ingredients can help soothe a dog's injured skin, reduce inflammation, and remove allergens.
  • Flea control regimes can help prevent and get rid of fleas. To keep fleas from thriving on your pet, your vet may recommend giving your dog flea medications.
  • Antihistamines might be able to help control your dog's symptoms, however, they don't always work. On the other hand, if antihistamines are effective, this is could be an affordable option that typically has a very low risk of side effects.
  • Hypoallergenic diets can either remove, replace, or reduce the food ingredient your dog is allergic to.
  • Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents should only be used to manage a dog's itching and scratching as a last resort when the allergy season is short or to relieve extreme discomfort (and in small quantities). This method can cause side effects such as increased urination, increased thirst and appetite, jaundice of the skin, and changes in behavior. Long-term use of this method could result in conditions such as diabetes or decreased resistance to infection.
  • Controlling your dog's environment could be the best way to manage your dog's allergy if you are aware of the allergen and are able to remove it or minimize your dog's exposure to it effectively. Even if your pooch is on another medication, it is still best to reduce their exposure to the allergen if possible.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

Would you like to learn more about how we can help treat allergic dermatitis and symptoms of allergies in dogs? Contact our San Gabriel vets today to schedule an appointment.

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