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Many factors can cause dog allergies

Original Publication Date: May 25, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Skin allergies and ear infections are the top reasons dogs see their veterinarians.

Many ear infections are related to allergies. Dogs can be allergic to the same things that cause people great discomfort, but symptoms may be quite different. For example, the pollen that makes a person sneeze may make a dog's feet itch.

Because people and dogs vary in their reactions to the same allergen, it can be tricky to determine the cause of a dog's discomfort. Allergies to fleas, environmental substances and food are the most frequent problems.

Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common skin disease in dogs. Flea saliva, not the flea bite, causes a dog to itch and be uncomfortable. The irritation is disproportionate to the number of fleas as saliva from just one or two fleas can cause severe itching of the skin and make a dog incredibly uncomfortable for weeks. The discomfort can last long after one or two culprits that initiated the flea allergy dermatitis have died.

Carefully, inspect your dog for fleas if you suspect flea allergy dermatitis. Frequently groom with a flea comb, bathe the dog often, wash bedding and use a flea control product recommended by your veterinarian.

Allergies to environmental sources can involve outdoor allergens like ragweed, grass or pollen, while mold, dust mites, cleaning chemicals, cotton and wool are potential indoor allergens.

Outdoor allergens, especially those related to pollens, may be seasonal problems while indoor allergens are likely to be year-round challenges. Identifying the source of your dog's discomfort from the host of possibilities is a daunting task best approached with the help of your veterinarian.

Once the source of your dog's dilemmais identified, minimizing or perhaps eliminating exposure is the best option. Take morning and evening walks when pollen counts are lowest, and wipe your dog's feet after they stroll in grass. Vacuum your home, bathe your dog and wash bedding often to reduce the allergen numbers.

It is natural to expect a food allergy to cause a dog digestive upset like gas, diarrhea or vomiting, but symptoms can also manifest as itchy skin, red or irritated eyes, nasal discharge, coughing or sneezing, inflamed ears or swollen paws. To complicate things, a dog may develop an allergy to food they have been eating for some time.

Your veterinarian may recommend a 12-week elimination diet of a commercially prepared kibble. Then, foods are reintroduced one at a time to determine the offending allergen.

Next, your veterinarian can suggest a maintenance diet that should keep your dog happy and healthy.

Determining the cause of a dog's allergy is not an easy task. If you suspect your dog has developed an allergy, ask your veterinarian to assist with a diagnosis. Your veterinarian can recommend a course of action and perhaps medications to help your dog live a contented comfortable life.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at