Soothing scratchy, inflamed skin: treating dog skin allergies
Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump! There goes that leg again. Lick, lick, lick, and there it is, the constant licking of their paws. They have been at it for days. Their skin is red, inflamed, and seems to be maddeningly itchy. You can tell the poor pup is miserable and it is time to do something about it. Your dog will thank you and you may even get some peace.
Get to the root of the problem
When you find yourself in this situation, the first thing to do is schedule a visit with your veterinarian to find the cause of the reaction. They will take a history of your dog’s habits and environment, and probably do some testing to help narrow down the problem. Here’s what to expect:
- Check for fleas and ticks and verify that you’re keeping your dog (and every pet in your household) is up to date on their treatments. A single bite can trigger an allergic reaction in highly sensitive dogs, so it’s very important to rule out this possibility.
- Rule out a yeast infection, bacterial infection, or parasitic infestation.
- Ask if there is something new in the environment or not, if the itch is seasonal or not, etc.
- Evaluate a possible adverse reaction to food
- Check for environmental allergies if all the above are negative. Your vet may also want to do a blood test to check for specific antibodies, or a skin test, which is similar to a skin prick tests in humans,and can identify the specific allergen(s) a pet has reactions to.
Allergies are often complex and hard to diagnosis. If often takes multiple visits and tests and this can be a lifelong, chronic problem. With any luck, you’ll be able to pinpoint the allergy and find the appropriate treatment. Whatever the type of allergies, the skin’s ecosystem, made up of 3 complementary skin barriers (shown in the figure below), is damaged and needs to be repaired.
So, it is allergies, now what?
Best case scenario, the offender will have been identified and can be effectively cut out of your dog’s environment. When it’s a case of food allergies, finding the correct food is the solution, as it’s often a particular protein such as chicken or fish that is the culprit. Allergic reactions to flea bites can also be fairly easy to control with regular preventative treatments.
However, if the tests are inconclusive or show that your dog is allergic to things that are everywhere, like pollen, dust, or mold, then other strategies need to be used. Unfortunately, this is a common outcome (around 10-15% of dogs), and your dog will require a long-term, multi-faceted treatment regime for this lifelong condition.
How to treat skin allergies in dogs
Let’s explore some of the options available. Keep in mind that it will probably be a combination of treatments that will end up helping your pup, and every dog responds differently. There is no “miracle solution” that will work for every dog and the treatment your vet prescribes will often have to be adjusted over your pet’s lifetime.
Environmental changes to limit contact with allergens
There are several things you can change around the house to help your furry friend feel better. You can make sure that you’re using hypoallergenic detergents to clean their bedding, that you’re not using any harsh chemicals in the yard, and that their environment is not overly dusty or moldy. An air cleaning machine with a HEPA air filter can help control the levels of mold and dust in the air (which has the added benefit of providing you and your family with cleaner air to breathe, too!).
Effective flea control
Owners of dogs with skin allergies should be especially vigilant to ensure that their pup’s preventative flea treatments are kept up to date, as this is a common trigger for allergies and may contribute to increasing itching and the level of inflammation. All pets in the household should be on flea treatments. An effective flea control such as Vectra® 3D for dogs helps prevent flea bites.
Topical treatments bring soothing ingredients directly on the skin where they are needed
In the case of sensitive skin, your pet’s skin barrier is damaged and needs to be repaired. Topical formulations are essential products for managing itchy, sensitive, irritated skin. DOUXO® S3 is unique in that it acts to restore the three skin barriers (physical, microbiological, immunological) simultaneously and has a very low risk of side effects.
Among the available topical products, the best plan is to use shampoos and mousses as complementary formulations on a regular basis. The shampoo cleans the skin and fur, removing dirt, debris, dead skin, and allergens. Since shampoos are rinsed off, their ingredients are in contact with the skin for a relatively short time. Mousses, on the other hand, are not rinsed off and this allows the ingredients to remain on the skin longer. The skin thus has time to absorb the product, providing optimal, long-lasting contact with the healing ingredients.
Drugs to reduce itching and skin inflammation
Your vet may prescribe an oral, injectable or topical medication to help alleviate itching. There are many medications on the market with different onsets of action and side effects. Your veterinarian will give you all the details during your appointment. Some options are well known in human medicine, such as corticosteroids that work very well and are used preferably short-term, or antihistamines that don’t seem to be efficient on their own in dogs.
Treat the cause: immunotherapy
Immunotherapy can be a very effective treatment for chronic conditions. This is used when the triggering allergen has been identified. It works similarly to vaccination. Small amounts of the substance the dog is allergic to are injected, promoting tolerance to it over time. It can take approximately 10-12 months to see results from this treatment so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. Over the long term, this treatment can be very effective, but must be continued for your pet’s lifetime.
Other complementary treatments
Your veterinarian may consider other supplements and vitamins that may help, such as essential fatty acids containing omega-3 fish oil.
A word of caution
Getting your furry friend comfortable again is bound to take time, patience and some trial and error, so don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t work. Just keep trying new things and combinations of things until you and your vet find what works.
Finally, bear in mind that allergies can change over time with the seasons and/or as the animal gets older. A treatment regime that was working can suddenly stop being effective and your dog’s allergies could flare up again. If this happens, don’t worry! This is normal and just means that the treatment plan needs to be re-adjusted.
DOUXO® is a registered trademark of Ceva Santé Animale S.A. Vectra® is a registered trademark of Ceva Animal Health, LLC.
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