HEALTH RELATED DISEASE - Skin and Allergy Problems
In order to overcome these frustrating symptoms your approach needs to be thorough and systematic. Shortcuts usually will not produce results and only add to owner frustration. This article will cover diagnosing and treating; inhalant, food, and flea allergies. I will also briefly discuss thyroid disease and immune mediated disorders.
Remember, your best source of information is your vet. Many vets are now recognizing the need for holistic allergy treatment instead of the tried and true (and possibly ineffective or dangerous) standby of corticosteroids. If your vet is not helpful, keep looking until you find someone you are comfortable with. You need to remember though, that the success or failure of treatment will rest mainly on you. There is no magic pill to deal with these problems. Unfortunately, there is also no "cure", only systematic treatment options.
Symptoms of inhalant allergies include: SCRATCHING, BITING, CHEWING AT FEET AND CONSTANT LICKING. The itching may be most severe on feet, flanks, groin and armpits. Dogs may rub their face on the carpet. Ear flaps may become red and hot. Chronic ear infections may follow. Skin becomes thickened, greasy and has a strong odor. Hot spots may develop due to irritation from constant chewing or scratching, which is then followed by infection. Allergies have also been implicated as a possible cause of Acral Lick Granulomas, a frustrating, treatment resistant condition whereby the dog creates a sore on his skin from constant licking
DIAGNOSISIf a dog has the above symptoms and responds well to the treatment measures outlined below, no further diagnostic tests may be needed. If the problem is severe and does not respond to simple measures, allergy skin testing can be done. A portion of the skin is shaved and a variety of substances are injected into the skin to see if they provoke a reaction. If so, an individual series of injections are formulated to give the dog over a period of time (there are blood tests designed to identify allergens without the skin testing, however their efficacy had not been proven. They should be reserved for cases where skin testing is not possible).
Like inhalant allergies, food sensitivities primarily manifest themselves with itchy skin. Other symptoms include anal itching, shaking of the head, ear inflammations, licking front paws, rubbing faces on carpeting and rarely vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, sneezing, asthma like symptoms, behavioral changes or seizures. Many people don't suspect food allergies as the cause of their dog's itching because their pet has been fed the same food all its life and has just recently started having symptoms. However, animals can develop allergies to a substance over time, so this fact does not rule out food allergies. Another common misconception is that dogs are only sensitive to poor quality food. If the dog is allergic to an ingredient it doesn't matter whether it is in premium food or the most inexpensive brand on the market. One advantage to premium foods is that some avoid common fillers that are often implicated in allergic reactions.
DIAGNOSISDogs are not allergic to a dog food per se, rather they react to one or more of the ingredients in the food. Some of the most common culprits are beef, pork, chicken, milk, whey, eggs, fish, corn, soy, wheat and preservatives. Many animals are now developing allergies to lamb as well. This was once thought to be very hypo-allergenic, but the more it is used, the more sensitivities are springing up.
The first step in diagnosing a food allergy is to eliminate all possible allergens and feed ONLY a homemade diet with ingredients the dog has never eaten before. The diet should be a protein and a starch. Good examples are one part lamb, rabbit or venison mixed with two parts rice or potatoes. NOTHING else can be fed during this time; no biscuits, chewable heartworm pills, chew toys or any table scraps!! You must also keep the dog away from feces if he or she is prone to eating stool.
This diet should only to be fed for a short period, while testing for allergies. It is not nutritionally complete enough for long term use. Check with your veterinarian before beginning the test. If the symptoms improve during the trial diet, go back to the original food for several days. If symptoms reoccur you know that something in the food is causing the reaction. The next step is to return to the trial diet and add one new ingredient a week (i.e. add beef for one week and if no symptoms occur add corn the next week for one week).
Once you have discovered the allergen you can look for a commercial food which does not contain that ingredient. According to Dr. Ackerman, approximately 80% of dogs with food allergies can be maintained on a commercial hypo-allergenic diet. Some of the common hypoallergenic diets include "Nature's Recipe", "Sensible Choice" and "Natural Life". "Nature's Recipe" makes a lamb and rice food, a venison and rice diet and a vegetarian diet, none contain chemical preservatives. "Natural Life" also makes a preservative free, lamb and rice food called Lamaderm. "Sensible Choice" is a third brand that is considered hypoallergenic because it contains neither wheat or corn and comes in a lamb and rice formulation.
Note: just because a food is labeled "Lamb and Rice" do not assume it is hypoallergenic. Many contain wheat, corn, soy, beef or preservatives. This process of elimination is trying and time consuming. You should be aware that it may take up to 10 weeks to see an improvement. However, it is the best method available to test for food allergies. You may wish to try switching your dog to one of the foods listed above for a month as a trial. If the dog shows improvement you know you are dealing with a food sensitivity, you just won't know which ingredient to avoid. If there is no improvement, you will need to begin the elimination testing.
Flea AllergiesThis type of reaction, again usually severe itching, is not to the flea itself but rather to proteins in its saliva. Dr. Ackerman writes that dogs most prone to this problem, interestingly enough, are not dogs who are constantly flea ridden, but those who are exposed only occasionally! A single bite can cause a reaction for five to seven days, so you don't need a lot of fleas to have a miserable dog.
To test for flea allergies, a skin test is performed which must be read in fifteen minutes and again in forty eight hours. Unfortunately injections to desensitize are not very effective because it is hard to collect enough flea saliva to make a serum!
For dogs with this problem a strict flea control regime must be maintained. We would caution you, however, against using strong chemical preparations on your dog. Often times the flea control program produces more harmful effects than the fleas, including seizures and skin problems, so please use caution.