Dog skin allergy is more common than you might think. It may surprise you to know that dogs can suffer from allergies just as humans do, but it's true. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to diagnose an allergy and identify the specific allergen, so it may take some detective work on the part of you and your vet. The difficulty is the fact that symptoms of skin allergy can mimic those of other conditions, so only your vet can definitively diagnose the problem.
There are three primary causes of skin allergy in dogs: fleas, environmental allergens and food allergies. If your dog develops a skin reaction, the location of the irritation can provide an important clue as to the underlying cause. Skin irritation in areas that are not covered by fur, for example, is likely to be from contact with some kind of chemical such as those found in plastics or household cleaners.
By far the most common cause of dog skin allergy is flea allergies. This is a skin irritation caused by the bites of fleas. It is most often found at the base of the tail and the back of the thighs. Dogs will tend to chew at the irritated areas, causing hair loss, redness and even bacterial infection from saliva. If fleas are the culprit, a flea shampoo or dip can be used to kill them off and then your vet can recommend a product to use for flea protection.
Just like their human counterparts, dogs will often develop allergies to environmental agents like pollen, mold and ragweed. Unlike humans, dogs will not exhibit symptoms like runny nose, sneezing and coughing. In most cases of canine environmental allergy the primary result will be skin irritation, usually on the feet and underbelly. This type of allergy can affect any breed but is more prevalent among breeds like the Australian Shepherd who spend a lot of time outdoors.
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Dogs can be exposed to things both indoors and outdoors that you may not be aware of that could trigger a dog skin allergy.
In the case of dog skin allergy caused by environmental allergens, the best treatment is to avoid the specific allergen, but that means identifying it first and that can be difficult. To do so, your vet may apply a skin test similar to the one used on humans, where a small amount of various environmental agents is applied to the skin to see which causes a reaction. To relieve symptoms, a hypoallergenic dog shampoo can be used.
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Food allergies are the result of a dog's system reacting to a protein found in food or treats. This type of allergy can develop at any time during a dog's life, even if he's been eating the same food for years. In most cases of food allergy, the irritation is generalized, meaning it occurs all over the body. It may also be accompanied by ear infection.
If your vet suspects a food allergy it will be necessary to begin an elimination diet in order to identify the offending food. Reduce the diet to a single carb and a single protein, such as rice and chicken, and then slowly add other items back in until you notice the symptoms occurring. Once you identify the culprit, you can permanently avoid allergic reaction.
Since the symptoms of dog skin allergy can mimic those of other, more serious conditions such as mange, it is imperative that you get your dog to the vet for a proper diagnosis. No one likes to see their pet suffer and with the right diagnosis and treatment your dog will be able to go back to enjoying his life allergy free.
For more information about Aussie health issues see the Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute (ASHGI).
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