by Audrey Harvey, DVM
Allergies can be a source of great distress for our dogs. The itch makes them miserable, and scratching doesn’t bring relief for very long. When our dogs are unhappy, we’re unhappy too.
Fortunately, allergies can be treated, and life can be much more pleasant for our pooches. Some treatments carry a risk of side effects. It’s important that you follow your vet’s instructions carefully, and be aware of what to expect if your dog should have problems with the medication.
These are the most common medications used to treat allergies in dogs:
Most antihistamines that are used to treat dogs are the same as those used in humans. They are not effective in all dogs, in fact only about 30% of dogs will respond to antihistamines alone. However, this percentage increases if they are used in conjunction with other treatments, such as fatty acid supplements.
At the proper doses, antihistamines are quite safe, with the only real side effect being sedation. This can be helpful to a dog that is distressed by his itching, as it may help him to relax.
Corticosteroids have a reputation for being unsafe, but if they’re used correctly and at the right dose, they are extremely useful. Corticosteroids work by suppressing your dog’s immune system, which relieves redness, inflammation and itching.
These drugs do have side effects, and they can be severe. Most dogs who take corticosteroids will drink a lot of water, and have an increased appetite. They gain weight, may become diabetic and can develop liver problems. However, serious side effects are more likely to occur with higher doses of corticosteroids, and most dogs tolerate them very well. You can often reduce the amount of corticosteroids your dog needs by using fatty acid supplements and anti-histamines at the same time.
Corticosteroids don’t deserve their bad reviews, and can make life so much better for a severely allergic dog.
This is a fairly recent addition to our armory of tools to treat allergies in dogs. It is specifically used in cases of atopy, or allergy to dusts and pollens. It won’t have any effect on the most common skin allergy in dogs – flea allergy, and it’s also not very effective in cases of food allergy either.
It too suppresses your dog’s immune system to stop him reacting to allergens. It can take up to 6 weeks to see a response, and in the meantime, you often need to use other medications to keep your dog itch-free. Side effects in the short term include vomiting. Long term, dogs can develop excessive growth of the gums, warts on the skin and infections.
4. Desensitising injections are a safe and effective way of treating allergies in dogs, particularly those allergies to dusts and pollens. Your dog is tested to identify what he’s allergic to, and then he is given small doses of that allergen by injection on a regular basis. The theory is that his immune system learns to tolerate that allergen, so he doesn’t react to it and become itchy. It is safe, it has no side effects and it works to relieve itchy skin in many dogs. Its main disadvantage is that it can be very expensive.
5. Don’t rule out alternative therapies in treating your allergic dog. Traditional Chinese medicine and herbal medicine can help ease the irritation in his skin. Keep in mind that even though herbs are natural products, they can have side effects if given in high enough doses. Some people find that acupuncture also helps in soothing itchy skin. If your vet isn’t experienced in using natural therapies, ask for a referral to a colleague who can help.
There’s no need for your dog to feel uncomfortable and itchy – there are treatments available to help him feel better. However you choose to manage your dog’s allergy, don’t forget to include Comfy Dog shampoo in his treatment regime. Its colloidal oatmeal and soothing herbs will reduce the irritation and inflammation in his skin, and it is gentle enough to use regularly to remove allergens from his coat. Follow his bath with a liberal application of Fur Butter. It is an ideal conditioner for itchy dogs, as it too contains oatmeal and will leave his coat feeling soft and luxurious.
Audrey Harvey is a veterinarian who has worked in small animal practice for 20 years, and has been involved in teaching and competing in dog obedience and agility. She is passionate about preventative health care in dogs, particularly obesity management and the prevention of boredom related behavioral problems. Audrey lives in Brisbane Australia, and shares her couch with an Australian Cattle Dog, an Australian Working Kelpie and two Whippets