Scratch, Scratch, Scratch, Lick, Lick, Lick
Do you hear this constantly with your dog? Is your dog is licking the paws, abdomen, underarms, scratching at the ears, or even scooting on the rear end? These may be signs of allergies. Instead of hay fever signs that we humans get - dogs get itchy. This can be caused by an allergic reaction : which may be either a food allergy or inhalant allergy …or both. By far the most common cause are inhaled allergens producing seasonal allergies. The offending list can be anything from grasses, weeds, tree pollen, to insects or fungus. Because the scratching breaks down the protective skin barrier, dogs are much more prone to getting secondary bacterial or yeast infections on their skin….which makes them even more itchy. The root cause of most ear infections in dogs are allergies. That can make for a miserable pooch and we in turn are very annoyed by their constant licking and scratching and feel bad for their extreme discomfort.
Just like in humans, certain seasons are worse than others - Spring and Fall seem to be the times where we see allergy symptoms flare. To differentiate from a food allergy, a food trial may be recommended to avoid offending ingredients. Most often it is usually a protein source like beef or chicken - not wheat or gluten, although you wouldn’t know that to look at dog food commercials today ..don’t get me started!
We do have some treatments in our “toolbox” of remedies here at Acequia for treating inhalant allergies in dogs also called Atopy. Treatment options depend on severity of symptoms, seasonal occurrence, dog’s age, other existing diseases, and financial constraints of the owner.
Below are images of Mara who is a 2 year old shar-pei who suffered from allergies. Her allergies were both inhalant and food related.
MEDICATIONS and TREATMENTS FOR ATOPY
The most basic treatment can involve using antihistamines (both prescription and OTC nonprescription) and Omega Fatty Acids. (please check with us for appropriate dosages). The antihistamines and OFA’s can help block some of the molecules involved stimulating the itch pathway. These need to be given on a daily - sometimes twice daily, basis, though. If your dog has some mild symptoms this may be enough to keep them under the itch threshold and keep her comfortable. Bathing or simply washing off the allergens on his coat can also help. For those whose symptoms are not controlled with those medications, we have more potent medications and tools.
Glucocorticoids (catabolic steroids ) can be very effective at suppressing the immune system. and decreasing the itchy allergic reaction. While they may be very helpful in low, tapering dosages, they have detrimental side effects long term. They definitely have a place in treating allergies on a short term basis, but they have body wide affects. There is even one product that combines a very low dose of prednisone with a prescription antihistamine which can be helpful with short term control of symptoms.
Other medications that suppress the allergic immune reaction have been used such as Cyclosporin (Atopica) , an immune-modulating drug . It is also used for other immune -mediated conditions so is fairly potent and not without its own side effects. Gastrointestinal problems can be common with this drug and it can be more expensive than other treatments. This drug can be tapered slightly after 1-2 months of daily medication to 4-5 times a week and has the potential to immune -modulate the dog after 2-4 years so they will not be reactive to inhalant allergens anymore.
Two newer medications have been developed in the last few years which have been incredibly effective at giving our itchy dogs some relief.
Apoquel is a daily pill that blocks multiple Cytokines which are chemicals that cause itch. This medication helps to inhibit the nerve response of the itch stimulation . It is also an immune suppressant, but the pathway that it blocks is such more narrow than other drugs we use . Thus there are much fewer potential side effects. It also acts rapidly - so much so owners have called it “Magic”. The results are pretty dramatic, but the downside of this medication is that it doesn’t give any residual anti-itch or future hope of body modulation so that the dogs will not be reactive to inhalant allergens. This makes it a good choice for older animals who may not be candidates for the delayed onset of resolution with other methods. It is also useful if the dog is itchy only for short periods of time during allergy season. It can be expensive especially for a large dog.
Another modality is called Cytopoint which is a monoclonal antibody injection developed to block the Interleukin 3 pathway. This is one fo the Cytokines that causes the most itchiness. It is an injection that lasts 4-8 weeks. It has relatively few side effects and can stop the scratching without involve daily dosing. Like Apoquel it can be pricey for larger dogs, but in the long run you may save money by avoiding bacterial infections due to scratching.
As in human medication, we can employ desensitization to help make the body less reactive to the allergens: i.e. Hyposensitization Allergy shots. This involves introducing small amounts of the allergen in regulated controlled amounts, either by injection or under the tongue, to gradually make the animal more tolerant of the offending allergens. This is about 80-85% successful. It can take months to give relief and may not stop the itch 100% but it has the long term promise of immune modulating the dog so that she won’t need shots anymore and be comfortable enough not to itch. We have two ways of allergy testing: skin testing (“gold standard” with a boarded veterinary dermatologist) or serum testing. The test is to find out what the dog is allergic to and give them these small increments with the goal being to make the body less reactive. The injections or sublingual drops start frequently but then taper to once every 2 weeks and then hopefully can be discontinued after 1-2 years. This methodology can be expensive, because of testing and allergy injections at the beginning, but will hopefully make the dog comfortable long term. This is a good choice for a young, very itchy dog.
Talk to us about your itchy dog and we can develop a good approach and plan to make your dog more comfortable and STOP SCRATCHING and LICKING