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Itching, Scratching, Chewing, Oh My!

If your dog scratches, itches, or chews, he may be experiencing allergies. Similar to people this time of year, dogs can also develop allergies to grasses, pollens, weeds, and other environmental allergens. One of the most common ways a dog’s allergies manifest is through skin problems. Allergens on the ground and in the air can penetrate the skin surface leading to skin inflammation.

Signs of skin allergies in dogs may include chewing their feet, red and itchy skin, rashes, hair loss, and frequent ear infections. You may notice these signs flare up at the same time your own allergies are at their worst. While springtime can lead to an abundance of skin allergies in dogs, they can exhibit environmental allergies any time of year (especially in California). If your dog has skin problems, it can be helpful to monitor the time of year they seem most affected, where on their body they are most itchy, and what therapies help control their signs.

If your pet is suspected to have allergies, your veterinarian may run tests to look for infection or other types of skin disease. Skin allergies are typically diagnosed based on your pet’s clinical signs and history. The most common age of onset is between 1 and 3 years of age. While some breeds are predisposed to skin allergies, any dog can develop them. Some of the most commonly affected breeds include Bulldogs, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and West Highland Terriers. If environmental allergies are suspected, skin or blood testing can help narrow down what your dog is allergic to.

Despite popular belief, only a small percentage of dogs develop allergies secondary to their food. When present, clinical signs can look very similar to those associated with environmental allergies. However, dogs with food allergies should not exhibit any kind of seasonal influence and may develop signs at an earlier age. Dogs are most often allergic to the protein source in their food such as chicken, beef, and eggs. Grains are not believed to be a significant allergy source in most dogs. The only way to identify a true food allergy in a dog is to perform a hypoallergenic food trial. Your veterinarian will guide you on how to do this and how long to feed the special diet for. No accurate skin or blood tests exist for the diagnosis of food allergies in dogs.

Itchy skin is annoying to your dog (and to you). Fortunately, there are many excellent options out there for management of allergies, depending on your dog’s specific signs. Treatments may include topical therapy and bathing to literally “wash” the allergens off of your pet. Your veterinarian may also discuss medications that can be taken by mouth, which might range from over-the-counter antihistamines to more targeted prescription therapy. Your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan based on your pet’s specific needs. Allergies are often a lifelong issue for dogs and goals are aimed at minimizing itching, scratching and skin infections.

Kristi Peterson, D.V.M, is the medical director at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care, WebVets.com. She is graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis, and Peterson is particularly interested in emergency and critical care medicine, surgery, and ultrasonography.

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Main article photo by: Courtesy Bishop Ranch