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.

Keep Your Dog Cool In The Summer Heat

Whether you see summer as a time to have fun in the sun or take a nap in the shade, it’s important to keep the health and safety of your dog in mind. The warmest months of summer can be a dangerous time for you dog. Here are some tips to help you make sure your dog enjoys the summer as much as you do.

On the Go With Fido

  • Make sure your dog has access to plenty of cool, fresh water 24 hours a day. There are many inexpensive and collapsible bowls (usually plastic or fabric) that you can take with you anywhere and refill at water fountains. If you are going to be out for a long period of time, freeze a bottle of water or bring ice cubes in a Tupperware container so that you will have cold water when you reach your destination.
  • Be aware that asphalt and sand can quickly get hot enough to burn the pads of dogs’ paws, and that your dog’s entire body is much closer to the ground than yours. In hot weather, walk your dog on the grass or dirt where it is cooler.
  • Never leave your dog in a vehicle. When it’s only 80 degrees outside, a car can heat up to over 120 degrees in just minutes and leaving a window cracked does little to prevent heat build-up. Many vets say that this is the most common cause of heat exhaustion.
  • Tying a dog outside a store while you run an errand in never a good idea, but is especially dangerous in the summer since he may be exposed to direct sunlight. If you can’t bring your dog inside the store, it’s best to leave him home.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise on extremely hot days. Take walks in the early mornings or evenings, when heat and humidity are less intense. Remember that if your dog is spending most of her time in air conditioning, the intense weather outdoors will be even harder for her to acclimate to.Consider getting a dog treadmill.
  • Many dogs like swimming, but some cannot swim (Bulldogs, for instance, are too large-boned) or may not like the water. Be conscious of your dog’s preferences and skills before putting him in the water. Always supervise your pet while swimming. Dogs can become easily disoriented in swimming pools and may not be able to find the stairs.

Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion

  • There are many factors that can make a dog more susceptible to heat exhaustion; physical condition, age, coat type, breed, and the climate it is most acclimated to. Very young and very old dogs are at the most risk. Brachycephalic dogs (those with short muzzles), such as Pugs and Bulldogs, are also at greater risk.
  • Symptoms of heat exhaustion or stroke can include excessive panting, disorientation, and obvious paleness or graying to the gums due to a lack of oxygen. A dog’s natural 102-degree body temperature should never exceed 105 degrees.
  • If you feel your dog is suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, act immediately by submerging her in cool water (not ice cold) or by placing ice packs on her neck. Once the dog has been stabilized get her to a vet.

Keeping Cool

  • If you keep your dogs outside, it’s critical that they have access to shade, and remember that dark-colored dogs absorb more heat than dogs with lighter coats. Dog houses are not good shelter during the summer, as they can trap heat.
  • There are various products that can help keep pets cool, such as fans that clip onto crates and mats with cooling crystals that stay up to 20 degrees below room temperate. These can be used as crate liners or as beds. Collars, vests and other items are also available. For an immediate and inexpensive option, try placing your dog on a wet towel on a concrete or tile floor in front of a fan or air conditioner.
  • Dogs do not sweat and their only means of reducing body heat is by panting. Although it seems incongruous, trimming your dog’s coat will not make him significantly cooler, and you should never shave your dog–his coat helps regulate body temperature and protect from sunburn!

Summer Travel With Your Dog

With pet-friendly hotels, cabins, and resort spots popping up all over the map, traveling with your best friend has never been easier. But while jetting off without planning in advance sounds romantic, it can cause sticky situations if your dog is along for the ride.

Practice first

In any endeavor, practice makes perfect. Your angel of a dog could turn into a devil in transit if you embark on a lengthy trip without preparing properly. But with a little advance work, you can help your pup learn to take travel in stride.

  • Acclimate your dog to his pet carrier or dog crate. Set the carrier up in the comfort of home well in advance, to help your dog view it as a safe and familiar den that’s just his. Be sure the carrier’s big enough so your dog can stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably.
  • Stick to day trips at first. This is especially helpful for a puppy who hasn’t been away from home much. A Saturday visit to an unfamiliar locale can help your dog get used to exploring new terrain and meeting new people.
  • Try an overnight trip next. Once he’s used to short journeys, arrange to spend a night with a friend or relative, or go to a pet-friendly hotel. This will introduce your dog to a variety of potentially anxiety-producing situations, such as sleeping in a new place, meeting strangers, and dealing with the odd noises of a different household or a hotel.

Prepare your dog for a lengthy trip

Whether you’re setting out via plane, ship, or automobile, take these steps first to prevent problems while you and your dog are away from home:

1. See your veterinarian. Make sure your dog is in good health, is up-to-date on shots, and has enough of any needed medications for the trip. Depending on the destination, the vet may suggest additional vaccinations. For example, if travel involves hiking in the woods, the vet could advise a shot for Lyme disease.

2. Get a health certificate from your vet. This verifies that your dog’s in good condition, and it may be required by some airlines, hotels, or doggie daycare locations in other cities.

3. Talk to the vet about sedatives. These are most important if your pet has had travel anxiety in the past, but you may choose to use them as a precautionary measure. However, your vet may advise against them for airplane travel.

4. Try any new sedatives or medications before you leave. Check to see if your dog has any allergic reactions that require a vet visit.

5. Ask your vet about a microchip. If your dog doesn’t have one already, you may want one as a safeguard against losing him permanently in an unfamiliar place.

6. Know the rules at your destination. For instance, to bring a dog across the border to Mexico, the health certificate must be dated within two weeks of the travel date. Most such certificates will remain valid for 30 days, to cover bringing the dog back into the U.S. at the end of your trip.

7. Research dog-walking routes in advance. Remember, dogs are creatures of routine, and yours will need that daily walk no matter where your vacation spot is–plus he’ll enjoy the adventure of new outings.

Bottom line: Pet-friendly accommodations make it possible to travel widely with your dog–but regulations and requirements mean it’s crucial to plan all the details first.

Fireworks and Dogs Do Not Mix

The 4th of July is Just a few days away, and that means fireworks. Many owners underestimate their dogs when it comes to fireworks. The truth is, even the bravest dogs can become terrified by the sound of fireworks. The most important thing you can do for your dog is to keep her away from fireworks displays. If you plan to go see fireworks, do your dog a favor and leave her home. If fireworks can be heard near your home, keep her indoors for the evening. Continue reading

A Tip for Cooling Down Your Dog

Stores that sell clothing for construction and roadway workers also often sell cooling bandanas or fabric neckbands filled with water-absorbing crystals. Next time you buy one for yourself, either for work or just to get you through the summer days, buy one for your dog.

Soak it and then tie it gently around the neck of a large dog or wrap and tie it around the back and chest of a small dog just behind the front legs. Now and then, refresh it with your water bottle and the two of you should be good to go on a hot day.