Summertime is allergy season for most of us in the world of veterinary medicine; it seems every third patient is suffering from some form of allergy. Itchy skin, inflamed feet, infected ears, and hot spots are common manifestations when our dogs’ immune systems overreact to benign pollens. Some dogs, like some humans, are unaffected, while others are miserable. Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Bulldogs seem to be more affected than most breeds, but any dog can develop an allergy.
We categorize allergies into three types: food, flea and inhalant. Food allergies are non-seasonal, so these dogs itch all year long and commonly have dermatitis around the eyes and rectum. Flea allergies tend to cause dermatitis of the lower back, rump and hind legs. We can talk about these more in depth another time. Today, we will focus our concern on the burden of “inhalant” allergies in our pets.
The term “inhalant” is borrowed from human medicine. In humans, most of the histamine-producing mast cells line the respiratory tract, so they develop sneezing, coughing and conjunctivitis. Dogs are different. They can be allergic to the same pollens, grasses, weeds, etc. as humans, but their mast cells line their skin. Thus, a better term would be a “contact” allergy. When dogs walk across their yard this time of year, the allergens contact their feet. Initially, many dogs develop itchy feet; in fact, some learn to walk on sidewalks and avoid yards. Later, the allergy manifests in the skin, lining the ears, face and body. Secondary infections are common in all the warm, moist places, including ears, armpits, and folds of skin. Hot spots can rapidly develop due to the overzealous licking and scratching of an infected area.
My favorite four treatments for summertime allergies are:
- Antihistamines – There are many types, and I recommend you try different options until you find the one that works the best. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is commonly used at a dose of 1 mg per pound of body weight twice a day.
- Omega fatty acids – Fish oils are the most common form.
- Topical steroids – I like a product that has Gentacin and Betamethasone in a spray bottle. Examine your pup twice a day and spray all inflamed areas and feet. Ointments are great for eyes and ears once you have cleaned them.
- Antibacterial/Antifungal shampoo and oatmeal conditioner – Use once or twice a week to help prevent secondary infections and decrease general itchiness for several days.
These four treatments work best when used together rather than individually and will control most mild to moderate seasonal allergies. If your pet has more severe allergy symptoms, consult with your veterinarian as he may require additional medications to achieve control.
Dr. John Schoettle was born in Pennsylvania and raised on Saint Simon’s Island in Coastal Georgia. A graduate from Auburn University, John has lived in Savannah since 1992. He founded Innovative Veterinary Medicine in 2006 and has been caring for Paula’s pups ever since. An animal lover like Paula, John is active in Savannah’s animal community and plays dad to a black lab named Blue and a Hurricane Katrina rescue dog named Bayou.