This month we will focus on environmental allergies, also known as Canine Atopy. Just like people, dogs can be allergic to things in the environment. As we discussed last month, people with allergies have a runny nose and itchy eyes. However, in dogs and cats, the symptoms are often related to the skin. We often see dogs that chew their feet and scratch their ears as the first symptom of allergic disease. This itching can progress to ear infections and skin infections if not treated early.
In last month’s blog, we discussed how food allergy typically presents in a non-seasonal pattern (meaning that the pet is itchy all year long). Atopy is seen with a more seasonal pattern (meaning that your pet is itchy around the same time each year) and is often not noticeable during some seasons. The ultimate way to diagnose atopy is with intradermal testing and/or blood testing. This testing requires somewhat prolonged withdrawal times from many of the medications that we use to treat the itch, which makes testing difficult. When results of the allergy testing are received, we can order Allergen Specific Immunotherapy (allergy shots). These can be given at home by the pet owner after some initial training.
When treating atopy without a confirmed diagnosis, we often start with oral antihistamines. Some of these are over-the-counter options and others are by prescription only. Different dogs respond to different antihistamines better, so there is a lot of trial and error in determining the best choice for your dog. We often start with antihistamines in hopes of using the mildest, safest form of treatment to control the symptoms. If antihistamines are not enough to control the itching, we may suggest steroids or another form of immune suppression medication. If you think that your dog may require some of these treatments, please schedule an appointment to discuss your options with one of our veterinarians.