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Your Dog’s Allergies

September 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Dog Health and Nutrition, Featured Articles

Many of us are allergic to dogs, but what is your dog allergic to?  Your dog’s allergies can lead to itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose or itchy skin, just as your allergies do to you.

Identifying the Allergen

The first step in treating allergies is to find out what is affecting your dog.  Narrow down the field by seeing if your dog shows symptoms year-round or only during certain seasons.  Year-round allergies may be caused by food, dust mites, mold, other animals in your home, or even things like the cleaning products you use on your bedding, carpets, and clothes.

Try switching to a different brand of dog food or even begin making your dog’s food yourself.  Check out our article on homemade dog food.  If you switch to a different commercially-produced food, try to find one with a different protein source.  For example, if you are feeding a kibble made primarily from cows, look for one that has a lot of chicken-based or lamb-based protein sources.

If your dog doesn’t respond to a change in food, you might try keeping your dog out of bedrooms and any rooms in your home that are carpeted.  Doing so will cut down on the number of dust mites your dog may be exposed to.

Mold grows wherever there is moisture.  If you have unventilated bathrooms or if you live in a humid area, you may have a lot of mold spores in your home year round.  Keep your home as dry as possible by running your air conditioner or dehumidifier.  Vent your bathrooms and kitchen to the outside whenever steam is produced such as during showers or when cooking.

Some molds tend to grow on downed leaves in the fall.  Ask your vet or your local park service what molds are most common in your area and when they are at their peak. Limit your dog’s time outdoors when the molds in your area are most prevalent.

Every animal in your home – including you! – sheds skin cells and saliva from time to time, and your dog may well be allergic to these biological items.  Try isolating your dog from the other animals in your home and see if his or her symptoms improve.  If so, you may need to bathe and groom the other animals more frequently or find a way to keep them apart permanently.  Depending on the severity of your dog’s allergies, you may be able to separate them with a baby gate or you may have to put up a door between their respective areas.

Seasonal allergies

There are any number of seasonal allergens that can bother your pet, and the best way to definitively identify them is to ask your vet to do a scratch test.  The vet will shave a small area of your dog’s fur, then inject a small amount of pollen from various sources just under the skin.  The skin reaction to each injection is observed a few minutes later to identify which pollens are causing the problem.  You may be able to isolate your dog from those allergens, or you may have to treat your dog because some things are simply unavoidable.

Allergy testing can run several hundred dollars, so you may choose to simply treat your dog without identifying the specific environmental allergen.

Treatment for dog allergies

For most year-round allergies, your best bet is to help your dog avoid those things to which he or she is allergic.  If you cannot get relief for your pet, and for seasonal allergies, home remedies include antihistamines such as Benedryl or Tavist, both of which are safe for dogs.  The Benedryl dosage is1 mg per pound of dog weight two or three times a day. Tavist is given 1.34 mg twice a day for dogs under 30 pounds, and 2.68 mg twice a day for dogs over 30 pounds, usually once per day.  Antihistamines will likely make your dog drowsy and may cause constipation.

You can get longer term relief by having your vet inject your dog with a steroid or prescribe steroid tablets for home use.   However, steroids should be used as sparingly as possible because they do have important long-term side effects such as incontinence and damage to internal organs.

Vets estimate that allergy shots, intended to desensitize your dog to the offending allergens, work only about 20% of the time.  You must identify the specific allergens before you can give shots, as the desensitizing shots must contain the right allergen or they won’t work.  As mentioned above, testing may cost several hundred dollars, and the shots themselves cost another couple of hundred each year.  Results typically cannot be seen for at least six months, and several vet visits each month are required.

If outdoor substances are causing allergy problems for your dog, try filtering your air conditioner and furnace with electrostatic filters which trap dirt and pollen particles.  You can purchase them for less than $50 at many home repair stores and hardware stores, and they are designed to be semi-permanent, so you don’t have to replace them as often as regular paper filters.  If you cannot find a filter that fits properly in your furnace or air conditioner, call the manufacturer or buy a custom made one from Never Buy Another Filter.

You might also consider an air purifier with a HEPA filter for the area where your dog spends the most time, and use HEPA filters on your vacuum cleaner.

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