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Allergies in Dogs

By Dr. Bob Encinosa

Allergies are a common problem in dogs and can range from very mild seasonal problems to very severe and all year long.  It can be difficult and tedious to discover the source of those allergies but we will review some clues that may help.

Certain breeds are also more prone to allergies than others.  For instance, West Highland White Terriers and English Bulldogs are some of the most common allergic dogs we see here in central Florida.  Unlike humans, most of dogs allergic symptoms are not related to the upper respiratory tract and so sneezing and watery eyes are not the most common complaint.  Dogs’ symptoms are generally related to itchy skin and ears and also intestinal disturbances.

Allergies to pollens, grasses, weeds and trees are very common, as are allergies to indoor sources such as dust, dust mites and molds.  As you might guess, outdoor allergens can be more of a problem during certain seasons like spring and fall while indoor allergens like dust and molds tend to be a problem year round.  By far, the most common source of allergies we see is fleas.  Even with the unbelievably effective flea control products we now have, anything less than 100% flea control can be a problem for many dogs.  Food allergies are probably the least common category of allergies but can result in chronic diarrhea and vomiting as well as itching.

Based on a pet’s symptoms and history, a veterinarian will establish a plan to solve the problem.  Sometimes, all that is needed is short term control to get a pet through a bad season.  Other times, we may try to find the true source through allergy testing and food trials.  Allergy testing can be done through blood profiles or through multiple skin injections referred to as “intradermal allergy testing”.  Obviously the blood tests are easier for the pet.  Unfortunately, there are no quick tests for food allergies that are accurate enough to use, even though they are offered by some companies.  Food allergies can be diagnosed only by using very precise dietary controls for 2 – 3 months.  This is a tricky process but your veterinarian can help you and your pet through it.

Once the source of the allergy is identified, it is much easier to deal with, sometimes by avoidance; other times with medications or allergy desensitization injections.