We frequently see dogs with "hot spots" or allergic dermatitis (also known as atopic dermatitis) at Washington Dog and Cat Hospital. When dogs are exposed to an allergen, they frequently develop these skin conditions. In this post, our Los Angeles veterinarians discuss how to recognize and treat different types of allergic dermatitis in dogs.

Allergies in Dogs

In contrast to humans, dogs frequently develop skin reactions or gastrointestinal symptoms when they are allergic, whereas humans typically develop nasal symptoms and hives. This is because dogs' skin contains more mast cells, which release histamines and other vasoactive substances when they come into contact with or are exposed to allergens. When this happens, dogs may experience symptoms such as hot spots, itching and scratching, poor coat condition, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain/ discomfort, and flatulence. If your dog suffers from thyroid disease, his or her condition may deteriorate.

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 repeatedly exposed to.  Most of the time dogs start developing signs of having allergies when they are between 1 and 3 years old. Because this condition is hereditary it's seen more often in golden retrievers, Irish setters, bulldogs, most terriers, and Old English sheepdogs, however, all dogs, including mixed breeds can develop allergic dermatitis.

Common Types of Allergies in Dogs

Below we have listed some of the most common allergies in dogs:

Food Allergies

Even if your dog has been eating the same brand of food for months, he or she may develop an allergy to it. It makes no difference whether they eat the cheapest or highest-quality brand; if they are allergic to any ingredient in their food, they will experience symptoms. Premium dog foods, on the other hand, may have fewer filler ingredients, which could be the source of an allergy.

Flea Allergies

When dogs become allergic to flea bites, they are allergic to a protein in the flea's saliva rather than the flea itself. Dogs that are only occasionally exposed to fleas are more likely to develop symptoms than dogs that are constantly exposed to these external parasites.

Contact & Inhalent Allergies

Mold, pollen, trees, weeds, and dust mites can all cause allergies in dogs, just like humans. Keep a close eye on when the symptoms appear to determine which one your dog is allergic to. Pollen may be to blame if your dog's symptoms are seasonal, but mold may be to blame if they occur all year.

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

Bacterial hypersensitivity occurs when a dog's immune system overreacts to normal Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria on his skin. Specific changes occur microscopically in the blood vessels of dogs with bacterial hypersensitivity. Bacterial culture and examination of a biopsy sample can aid in the diagnosis of this condition.

Dogs that already have other conditions such as hypothyroidism, an inhalant allergy, and/or a flea allergy are more likely to develop bacterial hypersensitivity.

Diagnosing Dogs With Allergic Dermatitis

The most reliable way to diagnose dogs with an allergy is to conduct an allergy test, and there are several types of these tests available. The most common is a blood test that looks for antigen-induced antibodies in a dog's blood.

Intradermal skin testing involves shaving a portion of a dog's skin and injecting a small amount of antigen into it. The skin is examined after a certain period of time for a small raised reaction in order to identify the allergens.

Once your dog has been diagnosed with an allergy, your vet will start developing a treatment plan.

Treating Dog Allergic Dermatitis

Treatment for a dog's skin allergies 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) Allergy shots are another name for them. Hypersensitizing injections are made in a lab specifically for your dog's allergy and are given to your pup on a regular basis (frequency depends on your dog's specific case). While this method is frequently very effective, it can take 6 to 12 months to see any noticeable 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 as a last resort to control a dog's itching and scratching during allergy season or to relieve extreme discomfort (and in small quantities). This method may cause increased urination, thirst, and appetite, as well as skin jaundice and behavioral changes. Long-term use of this method may result in diabetes or decreased infection resistance.
  • 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. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

For more information about acupuncture therapy for your pet or if your dog is exhibiting symptoms of allergic dermatitis, contact our Los Angeles vets today and schedule an appointment.