Dog Disease - Allergies and Hay Fever

She scratches. She licks. She bits at herself. In short, she’s itch and she wants it to stop. Before you settle on the obvious culprit and reach for the flea powder, check first that it isn’t an allergy.

Allergies are one of the most common conditions in dogs. In fact, in some parts of North America they even rival fleas as the main cause of canine itching and scratching.

Don’t expect her to sneeze a lot and blow her nose. The telltale signs that your dog has an allergy are:

•She starts licking and chewing at her paws.
•There is redness around her armpits and groin area.
•She rubs her face.
•She generally scratches and itches all over.

It’s unusual for a pup to get an allergy. Most dogs are at least six months and usually more than one year old when they first develop and allergic reaction to a substance, called an allergen. It could be pollens, molds, house dust, and a type of grass – all the same things we have allergies to.

Whether she has her very own “allergy season” – when the allergy affects her at a particular time of the year – or she’s itchy all year long will depend on what the allergen is. For example, if it’s ragweed that she’s allergic to, the itchiness will be worse in the fall; if the problem is house dust, the itchiness’ will probably be a year – round thing.

Easing the Symptoms:
The good news for your dog is that there is a lot you can do to lessen her need for a good scratch. There are products like antihistamines and marine oils that will relieve her symptoms and make her feel a whole lot more comfortable.

Some of the antihistamines designed for relief of allergies in humans are effective in about one-third of canine cases, and you can purchase most from a pharmacy without a prescription. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), clemastine (Tavist) and chlorpheniramine (Chlortrimeton) have all been used successfully with dogs. Ask your vet to recommend an antihistamine that will suit your pet and the dosage that you will need to give her.

Marine oils are also very useful for treating allergies. These oils, derived from certain cold water fresh fish, contain anti – inflammatory agents. Given daily, they will curb the symptoms in about 20 percent of dogs with allergies. When they are used with antihistamines, the overall success rate jumps to more than 50 percent. So there’s a good chance that you will be able to help alleviate her symptoms, but if not, your vet will investigate further.

Avoiding Allergens:
As a general rule, trees produce pollens in spring, grasses in summer and weeds in the fall. So if your dog’s allergic season is a particular time of year, then this is one clue to tracking down what she’s allergic to. House dust and mold allergies are year-round, although molds tend to be worse during damp periods. A dust mite allergy gets worse when humidity is high. But to be really clear about what your pet is allergic to, you will need to have her allergy tested by your vet.

Once you’ve worked out that either dust, mites, molds or pollens are her problem, there are some preventive measures you can make around your house that could really benefit your allergic dog.

Beware of the bedroom. “Don’t let your house-dust-allergic pet sleep in your bed-room,” says Kevin Byrne, D.V.M., an anima dermatologist and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia. The bedroom has one of the highest dust mite populations in your home, so closing your door at night could be doing her a mighty mite-free favor.

If that’s impossible, Dr. Byrne recommends special covers to control allergies. These encase your mattress, box spring and even pillows to contain the mite population. Contact your local dermatologist – veterinary or human will do – to find out about suppliers near you.

Wash Allergens away. Washing your sheets, blankets and comforters in hot water every seven to ten days is a good way of removing potentially allergy – causing particles, recommends Dr. Byrne. And washing her bedding will get rid of flea eggs and larvae as well. All this washing and cleaning is certainly going to keep you busy, but it’s simple and potentially effective way of making your dog’s life a little less itchy.

Improve the air quality. “Getting a high – efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can also dramatically reduces house mites, molds and pollens in home,” says Dr. Byrne. “Try to keep the humidity in your home to 50 percent or less, and clean areas where molds can accumulate, such as in air filters of the refrigerator.”

Watch for outdoor problems. Keep her away from recently mown lawns, as these tend to be rich in pollens and molds, suggests Dr. Byrne. And if you know its particular plant or weed that gets her going, at least weed it out of your yard and try to ensure that she doesn’t come into contact with it when out and about.

Keep her covered. Try putting your dog in a T-shirt or sleepers before letting her go outside. This might help to limit allergens coming into direct contact with her skin. Pop her head through the head hole then put her two front legs through the sleeves. With the clothing pulled down over her body, she’s ready to get out among the grasses. For the dog with very sensitive feet, you could also try getting her to wear booties.

Instant Relief:
If she’s having an attack of the scratches and needs immediate, short-term relief, give your dog a bath. This will help remove pollens, molds and dust from her coat, so at least they won’t then be absorbed through the skin. And the water will be soothing on itchy skin.

Run the water cool because warm water will only increase her itchiness. Add something soothing, such as colloidal oatmeal, to the bath water, or rinse her off with medicated rinses containing antihistamines, 1-percent hydrocortisone or topical anesthetics. Your vet can also prescribe a rinse for you to apply after her bath. Don’t wash it off – leave it on so that it can keep working.

You can’t always be giving your dog baths, of course, so in between times, use one of the sprays that are available that have the same itch-relieving properties as those listed above. She will certainly thank you for the relief that these little attentions bring.