How To Treat Your Dog’s Allergies

Believe it or not, dogs can suffer from allergies as well as cause them–in fact, allergies are all too common among canines. They can’t be cured, but they can be treated, both with medication and by protecting your dog, as much as possible, from whatever is making him sick.

Causes

As in humans, allergies are caused by an immune system that overreacts to an everyday substance, such as fleas, pollen, or a certain food. The following are the three most common culprits.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is genetic. An affected dog inherits a tendency to develop skin problems from pollens, grasses and trees, dust mites, or mold spores.

It usually begins with a seasonal reaction to pollen when the dog is young, and progresses until the dog is allergic to many different substances year-round. Skin irritation usually shows up around the eyes and mouth, armpits, stomach, and anal area. Ear infections are also common.

Your vet can run a skin or blood test to see what’s causing the problem, although these aren’t always totally accurate and medication can interfere with the results. (Your dog shouldn’t have prednisone for a month before the test, or antihistamines for 10 days before.)

Your vet may give your dog steroids for short-term relief from the itching, and immunotherapy (allergy shots) to lesson your dog’s sensitivity to allergens long-term.

Flea allergy

An allergy to blood-sucking fleas–or rather, to their saliva–is the single most common skin disease in dogs. In allergic dogs, a flea bite can cause extreme itching, red bumps, and inflamed skin that lasts for days. The more an allergic dog is bitten, the worse the allergy gets.

Steroids and antihistamines can make your dog less itchy, but the only real treatment is tight flea control in the house and yard, as well as on the dog. Luckily, the newer generation of flea control products is very effective.

Food allergy

Dogs can be allergic to several types of food, but the most common triggers are chicken, beef, corn, or wheat–all typical ingredients in commercial dog food. The allergy usually shows up as a skin problem, such as itching, rashes, and hot spots (warm spots of infected skin). Some dogs may have stomach upset as well, with chronic diarrhea or vomiting.

To find out what your dog’s allergic to, work with your vet to try an allergy elimination diet. This diet involves giving your dog a special food (which you’ll get from the vet), and over three or four months, gradually adding other foods back to your dog’s diet. When he starts itching again, you’ve found your culprit and can keep it out of your dog’s food bowl for good.

When it’s time to see a vet

A visit to the vet is in order if you spot these allergy warning signs:

  • Frequent scratching, licking, and chewing
  • Recurring skin or ear infections
  • Red, thick, or flaky skin
  • Hair loss
  • Chronic stomach upset
  • Reverse sneezing (sounds a bit like the dog is inhaling sneezes)

Immunotherapy may help

Dogs can get immunotherapy (often called “allergy shots”), just like people. Unlike drugs designed to ease symptoms, immunotherapy may make your dog less allergic by regularly exposing him to tiny amounts of whatever he’s sensitive to. It’s not effective for food allergies, though.

Not all dogs respond to immunotherapy. About 60 to 80 percent do very well with the shots, about a fourth get some relief, and another fourth don’t respond at all. It takes weeks, months, or sometimes even a year to know if it’s working. Expect the pay-off next allergy season, not this one.

If it does work, your dog will probably need regular shots for the rest of his life. Your vet or a veterinary dermatologist will teach you how to give the shots to your dog at home, although if you have a tough time doing this, the vet can do it for you. Rarely, a dog will have a serious reaction to the shots, so you’ll need to schedule them when you’ll be nearby for a half hour or hour afterward to keep an eye on your dog.

One final tip: buy the best dog treats you can find to give your dog after the shot, as it will ease the process.

Symptoms of a Flea Infestation

The summer months are prime time for fleas, which thrive in the heat. And if untreated, they can lead to tapeworms and other diseases.

Symptoms of an infestation can include:  Severe itching that causes a skin rash, legions and possibly ulcers,  dermatitis, and scratching and biting at the inflamed area on the skin. Flea attacks are most common on your dog’s, head, neck and tail.

The symptoms of fleas appear suddenly and range from very mild to severe. Be on the lookout for fleas crawling through your dog’s fur, particularly in your dog’s skin folds. Adult fleas are flat with 3 pairs of legs, brownish in color and 2 – 8mm long. Also look for “flea dirt” (excrement) in your dogs bedding and skin

Flea Control

The flea is a small, brown, wingless insect that uses specialized mouth parts to pierce the skin and siphon blood. For millions of pets and people, it is a remorseless enemy.

When a flea bites your dog, it injects a small amount of saliva into the skin to prevent blood coagulation. Some animals may have fleas without showing discomfort, but an unfortunate number of dogs become sensitized to this saliva. In highly allergic animals, the bite of a single flea can cause severe itching and scratching. Fleas cause the most common skin disease of dogs – flea allergy dermatitis.

If your pet develops hypersensitivity to flea saliva, several changes may result:

  • A small hive may develop at the site of the flea bite, which either heals or develops into a tiny red bump that eventually crusts over.
  • The dog may scratch and chew at himself until the area is hairless, raw and weeping serum (“hot spots”).

This can cause hair loss, redness, scaling, bacterial infection and increased pigmentation of the skin.The distribution often involves the lower back, base of the tail, toward the back, the abdomen, flanks and neck. It may become quite generalized in severe cases, leading to total body involvement.Remember that the flea spends the majority of its life in the environment, not on your pet, so it may be difficult to find. In fact, your dog may continue to scratch without you ever seeing a flea on him. Check your dog carefully for fleas or for signs of flea excrement (also called flea dirt), which looks like coarsely ground pepper. When moistened, flea dirt turns a reddish brown because it contains blood.If one dog in the household has fleas, assume that all pets in the household have fleas. A single flea found on your pet means that there are probably hundreds of fleas, larva, pupa and eggs in your house.

If you see tapeworm segments in your dog’s stool, he may have had fleas at one time or may still have them. The flea can act as an intermediate host of the tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum. Through grooming or biting, the animal ingests an adult flea containing tapeworm eggs. Once released, the tapeworm grows to maturity in the small intestine. The cycle can take less than a month, so a key to tapeworm prevention is flea control.

The Life Cycle of the Flea

The flea’s life cycle has four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The adult flea uses your dog as a place to take its blood meals and breed. Fleas either lay eggs directly on the dog where they may drop off or deposit eggs into the immediate surroundings (your home or backyard). Because the female may lay several hundred eggs during the course of its life, the number of fleas present intensifies the problem. The eggs hatch into larvae that live in carpeting, cracks or corners of the dog’s living area. The larvae survive by ingesting dried blood, animal dander and other organic matter. To complete the life cycle, larvae develop into pupae that hatch into adults. The immediate source of adult fleas within the house is the pupa, not the dog. The adult flea emerges from the pupa and then hops onto the host.

This development occurs more quickly in a warm, humid environment. Pupae can lie dormant for months, but under temperate conditions fleas complete their life cycle in about three weeks. The inside of your home may provide a warm environment to allow fleas to thrive year round.

Fighting the Flea

Types of commercial products available for flea control include flea collars, shampoos, sprays, powders and dips. Other, newer, products include oral and systemic spot-on insecticides.

In the past, topical insecticide sprays, powders and dips were the most popular. However, the effect was often temporary. Battling infestations requires attacking areas where the eggs, larvae, pupae and adults all congregate. Because some stages of a flea’s life can persist for months, chemicals with residual action are needed and should be repeated periodically. Sprays or foggers, which required leaving the house for several hours, have been used twice in 2-week intervals and then every two months during the flea season.

Treating animals and their living areas thoroughly and at the same time is vital; otherwise some fleas will survive and re-infect your pet.

As one might expect, flea control through these methods is very time consuming, expensive and difficult. The good news is that currently, with the newer flea products on the market, flea control is much safer, more effective and environmentally friendly. Current flea control efforts center on oral and topical systemic treatments. These products not only treat existing flea problems, they also are very useful for prevention. In fact, prevention is the most effective and easiest method of flea control.

One group of products works to control fleas by interrupting the development of fleas by killing flea larva and eggs. These drugs are called insect growth regulators (IGRs). These products do not kill adult fleas, but they dramatically decrease the flea population by arresting their development. One common oral product used is lufenuron (Program®). Lufenuron is given monthly, and is combined with heartworm protection in the product lufenuron/milbemycin Sentinel®. Lufenuron is also available as an injection that lasts 6 months. Methoprene and pyriproxifen (Nylar®) are also very effective IGRs that are available as sprays or collars.

Other products kill the actual flea (adulticides) and work quite rapidly. These include both spot-on and oral products. Spot-on products are usually applied on your pet’s skin between the shoulders. The medication is absorbed into the skin and distributed throughout the body. Fleas are killed rapidly on contact with the skin. Spot-on products include fipronil(Frontline®), Metaflumizone (ProMeris® and ProMeris Duo™), imidacloprid (Advantage®), and Selamectin (Revolution®). A recently developed oral adulticide is nitenpyram (Capstar®), that when given begins to kill fleas in 30 minutes. All these products are safer, easier to use and, if used correctly, the most effective method of flea control.

Additionally, some have the added benefit of efficacy against other parasites. Some veterinarians are even recommending a combination of an adulticide and insect growth regulator (Frontline Plus®) as a more complete method of flea control.With all these choices it is best to consult your veterinarian as to the best flea control and prevention for your pet. The choice of flea control should depend on your pet’s life-style and potential for exposure. Through faithful use of these systemic monthly flea products, the total flea burden on your pet and in the immediate environment can be dramatically reduced.

Keeping your pet on monthly flea treatments, especially in areas of high flea risk, is an excellent preventive method of flea control. These products often eliminate the need for routine home insecticidal use, especially in the long run. Although it may still be prudent in heavy flea environments to treat the premises initially, the advent of these newer systemic flea products has dramatically simplified, and made flea control safer and more effective.

USDA Approves First Canine Flu Vaccine

After nearly one million doses sold to veterinary clinics and shelters throughout the U.S. in the past year, the USDA now has granted full license to the first vaccine against canine influenza virus.

Known as Nobivac Canine Flu H3N8, the vaccine was given a conditional license on May 27, 2009, and has since been shown to reduce the signs, severity and spread of CIV infection, while also lowering the rate and severity of lung lesions.

The USDA approval now confirms the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, where field experience data shows it is well-tolerated and has adverse effects comparable to those seen for other canine vaccines.

According to Steve Shell, Companion Animal Business Unit Head of Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health, makers of the vaccine, more than 9,000 small animal practices nationwide have the vaccine in clinic.

“Though not considered a core vaccine, Nobivac Canine Flu is commonly recommended by veterinarians for at-risk social dogs, such as those regularly receiving Bordetella vaccination, because they are frequently in contact with other dogs,” Shell said.

CIV is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs caused by an influenza A virus, H3N8.

“In general, any dog that is in a closed room with other dogs for at least six hours or more can be considered at risk, particularly those that are boarded frequently, go to dog shows, dog day care and training classes, or are in shelters,” said Dr. Ronald D. Schultz, professor and chair of Department of Pathobiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Other dogs that may be at risk include those in rescue groups and those that travel with families, particularly to endemic areas, are housed in breeder facilities or belong to animal healthcare personnel,” continued Crawford.

Cases of canine influenza have been identified in 33 states and the District of Columbia. During 2009-2010, outbreaks occurred in shelters, kennels, dog day-care centers, veterinary clinics and other facilities in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Connecticut and Virginia.

The cost of treating CIV and the potential for serious secondary infection, led the American Veterinary Medical Association to call for the development of a vaccine in 2006.

Now, Nobivac Canine Flu H3N8, made from inactivated virus, is intended as an aid in the control of disease associated with canine influenza virus infection and is administered by subcutaneous injection in two doses, two to four weeks apart. It may be given to dogs six weeks of age or older and can be given annually as a component of existing respiratory disease vaccine protocols to ensure more comprehensive protection.

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