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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dog Allergies

There has been a general increase in allergies to humans and pets alike. At a seminar I recently attended, Liz Koskenmaki, DVM addressed the issue giving me plenty of information to pass on. Dr. Koskenmaki started out by saying that 50% of all her patients come due to allergies.

While she didn't discuss the cause of this phenomenon, she mentioned the three main dog allergy  causes and their manifestation. She also mentioned dog allergy treatment solutions for each cause.

The three main dog allergy causes are:

1. dog fleas
2. dog food allergies
3. environmental allergies

The patients may have ear issues, skin (yeast or bacterial infections), irritability, weight loss, and itching. For starters, the dog vet has to rule out three major things: ringworm, mites, and bacterial or yeast infections.

1. Allergies Caused by Dog Fleas

No dog is born with flea allergies. Flea allergy develops after exposure for a long period of time. That's why, according to vets, all canines should receive preventive dog flea control. Dog fleas are not easy to see, but that does not mean that your dog is free of them unless he's on medication. Dr. Koskenmaki suggested the use of Fronline Plus, Advantage, Advantix (caution: this one is toxic to cats!) as a way to prevent exposure to fleas, therefore overall avoidance of related dog skin allergies. When I questioned the current warnings against spot-on medications, she replied that the bad rep is due to formulations that come from other countries that are usually really cheap (she used Hartz as an example) that can indeed have devastating effects on our dogs. She also reassured me that overall, the "quality stuff" is still considered quite safe. She mentioned Fronline and Revolution as good choices, and that the only side effect she has personally seen from Frontline was minimal hair loss at the application site.

Dog food allergies are quite common. Many dogs are allergic to corn, byproducts, soy, added dyes . . . There are plenty of hypoallergenic dog food options to try first. If that does not solve your dog's food allergy issue, you should consider the possibility of protein allergies. It takes a dog about 3-5 years from birth to develop allergies to protein. In such cases, one can switch to lamb, venison, duck, rabbit, or fish dog food.  Another option to "test" protein allergies is to switch to hydrolyzed protein. Switching to a hydrolyzed protein diet is a way to diagnose food allergies, but it is not a diet your dog should be on long term. Remember, this diagnostic technique takes a while since it takes about 6 weeks for your dog's system to clear up. There are also blood tests available to diagnose dog food allergies, but they are not 100% correct.

3. Environmental Allergies

Environment related dog allergies are the worst. There is intradermal testing (skin testing) that shows exactly what your dog is allergic too. Based on those results, your vet can provide you with a special cocktail shot fit for your dog, but the process takes as long as 8 months.

Dog Allergy Treatment Suggestions

1. 30% of dogs will respond to antihistamines, which are found to be relatively safe to use even long term. 
2. Atopica: is an immunosuppresant drug with not too many side effects. It takes 2-4 weeks to work but it is not licensed for cats yet (although some vets do use it on cats).
3. Dog steroids: The results are instant BUT there are many side effects. They are tough on the liver and leave your dog prone to infections. 
4. Fish Oil for dogs: A great supplement that boosts the immune system, helps with dog allergies, strengthens the heart, brain, skin and nerves. 

Dog allergies are common and complicated to treat. This article should help guide you to think in the right direction or in the least in your communication with your personal vet.

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