Food Allergies and Atopy in Dogs
Allergies are one of the most common and frustrating dermatologic ailments we struggle with in veterinary medicine. It’s absolutely amazing how expensive allergies are to treat, especially given that it’s not a life-threatening illness. However, they’re not curable and they DO affect quality of life.
When we discuss allergies with a pet owner for the first time at Olathe Animal Hospital, there are some important points to make regarding overall treatment and taking the next step in diagnosing the problem.
- Antihistamines–Benadryl given every 8-12 hours (ask us for dose) can be helpful for the relief of itchy skin. If this isn’t helping, please let us know and we will provide a prescription antihistamine. Sometimes it’s necessary to try two or three different antihistamines in order to find one that helps.
- Fatty acid supplements–every dog or cat with skin issues should be getting extra amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Shampoos–bathing mechanically removes pollen from the coat and skin, which is especially important for hairless parts of the body (footpads, groin, ears). Allermyl shampoo is a good choice for relief of itchy skin because of its micro-emulsion formula. Antibacterial shampoos (e.g. Hexidene) can be especially helpful for secondary bacterial dermatitis. Most therapeutic shampoos need to stay in contact with the skin for 5-10 minutes before rinsing.
- Corticosteroids (Prednisone)–when a dog or cat is really miserable due to allergies, we often prescribe a corticosteroid such as prednisone to help provide more immediate relief of itching. Think of it as a “fire extinguisher” and not usually a long-term solution. Prednisone WILL increase thirst and urination! Long term administration of prednisone can have severe consequences.
- Dermatology diet–Hill’s makes a prescription diet called d/d (dermatology diet) which uses novel protein sources that help minimize skin and GI sensitivity. It also has a beneficial amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Some dogs or cats with food allergies will receive the most benefit by receiving a hypoallergenic diet called z/d. We will discuss with you which we recommend.
- Alternative therapies: We may recommend trying an immune-modulating medication called Atopica (generic = cyclosporine). Because allergies are due to hypersensitivity of the immune system to something in the environment or diet, this medication helps to SAFELY reduce the intensity of allergic reactions. This medication needs to be given daily at first, often in conjunction with prednisone, but the goal is to reduce its frequency to 2-3 times per week (or less).
- Allergy testing should be considered if the above treatments do not achieve adequate success. We perform a blood test (serum) and can check for either food allergens, environmental allergens, or both. Results are usually received within about 30 days. This can help guide our decision to consider hyposensitization therapy.
The patient pictured above and to the right was diagnosed with food and environmental allergies. Her allergy test showed sensitivity to trees such as maple and elm, and weeds like short ragweed. We started her on a 2-month trial of Hill’s z/d to help with food allergies. As you can see from the redness around her eyes (which is fairly common with allergies, especially in white dogs), she has been pretty miserable!