This year's extreme weather created more rain, heat, and bugs than ever before. Our roses and wildflowers have put forth extra blooms, and the pollen count is up. Just as with owners, the pollen, dust, bug bites, and mold can prompt allergies in our pets. While people with "hay fever" develop itchy eyes or scratchy throats and suffer sneeze attacks, allergic dogs more typically develop itchy skin, especially on their feet and ears. And any skin irritant, including bug bites, may lead to hot spots. Here are some tips for how to treat dog skin allergies.
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Flea Bite Allergy
Dogs with flea allergy typically suffer from rear-end itching. Today, pet parents can choose from a host of effective flea prevention products. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Since a single flea bite can turn an allergic pet into a scratching fiend, it's important to treat the environment too.
Premise products like flea bombs may require pets to be removed from the house during treatment. For maintenance, vacuum frequently and empty containers immediately to remove flea eggs, cocoons, and larvae from the house. For outdoor habitats, cut the grass short to allow sunlight to shoo away the bugs. Keeping your pets from problem areas and treating the bug habitats helps reduce the pest population. Nematodes—worms that eat immature fleas—are available from lawn and garden supply outlets.
Hot spots, or moist pyotraumatic dermatitis, arise from a sore, itch, or bug bite. The inflamed moist area turns raw and extremely painful and can grow twenty-times larger in a single day. They affect the top layer of skin, ooze, and mat fur that hides the extent of the problem but can be treated at home.
Trim away the fur with electric clippers—a mustache trimmer works—and clean the area with a betadine-based product. Your dog may more easily accept a spray bottle to treat the tender area. You can also use Burow's solution ($19.85, amazon.com) available from most pharmacies, that dries the hot spot to speed up healing. Another effective home remedy uses tea bags, because the tannic acid also helps dry and soothe the sore. After steeping the tea bag in hot water, allow it to cool, and apply the wet bag to the sore. After the first couple of days, the tenderness resolves.
With very large, slow to heal sores, or when the dog's pain prevents you from treating, your veterinarian should address the problem. Preventing flea bites helps reduce the chance of additional hot spots.
Atopic (Inhaled) Allergy
Atopic dogs suffer from front-half itching. They chew, bite, lick and rub their face, chest, "armpit" area, and feet. The webbing between the dog's toes can absorb allergens and make the entire body itch. Atopic dogs also commonly suffer from chronic ear infections. Atopy is an inherited tendency. Small terriers, Golden Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Dalmatians, Setters, and Pugs may be more susceptible. Atopy diagnosis requires a veterinary exam.
Veterinarians may use various tests to identify which allergens cause your pet's symptoms. Once your veterinarian identifies the allergens that cause reactions, immunotherapy may be an option. A series of allergy shots help the pet’s body build immunity. Skin tests and allergy shots are relatively expensive but help about 75 percent of pets. The most common treatment involves prescription steroid-type medications or antihistamines to calm the itch. Your dog may find relief in over-the-counter Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, which support skin health and can help calm the itch. Try Drs. Foster and Smith Premium Plus Omega-3 Gel Caps for Pets ($12.99, petco.com). You can find these supplements from your veterinarian or pet product stores.
Dogs may react to a single, or multiple allergens, but even when you know your dog reacts to house dust, it's nearly impossible to eliminate exposure. Dog fur is a magnet that attracts and captures environmental allergens. Simply washing your dog and rinsing the fur free of allergens offers immediate itch relief.
A cool soak in a kiddie wading pool soothes itchy skin. Add in an oatmeal shampoo once a week to keep the fur clear of debris. In between times, use a spray bottle filled with a soothing oatmeal rinse, such as Aveeno's Soothing Bath Treatment ($9.49, walgreens.com), and rinse off the paw pads after each outdoor trek to clear away allergens that toe webbing absorbs. If you know your dog suffers from allergies, take steps now to keep him comfortable. That way, you both can enjoy the glorious outdoors when the weather cooperates.