Veterinarians estimate that as many as 15% of dogs suffer from environmental allergies, most of which begin before your pooch's third birthday and continue--and usually worsen--throughout his life.
While you and your four-legged friend may share triggers, his symptoms aren't like yours. "Dogs may lick and chew their paws, scratch constantly, and develop inflamed ears or skin infections," says Jon Plant, DVM, DACVD, a veterinary dermatologist for Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, OR. "These are all tip-offs that they're suffering from allergies, though only a vet can make the official diagnosis."
While a veterinarian can prescribe strong meds or even cortisone if necessary, there are also milder treatments with fewer side effects. Regardless of the symptoms' severity, the best approach is likely a combination of the following options.
"We now think that allergens are absorbed through the skin, not inhaled," Dr. Plant says, which means that frequent bathing can bring serious relief by washing away irritants. Look for shampoos with oatmeal and hydrocortisone, both proven anti-inflammatories, and try to bathe Bowser every 3 or 4 days.
Keeping your home free of dust mites and pollen can also help alleviate allergy symptoms. According to a study from the Netherlands, dust mite-sensitive dogs improved significantly when owners cleaned their homes using products specially formulated to remove those triggers. Try vacuuming regularly, installing high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters ($50 to $200), replacing old dog beds, and covering pillows and mattresses with allergy-proof cases.
Consider giving your pup omega-3 fatty acids, which have been known to reduce inflammation and help keep mild symptoms under control. Vitamin D is a new treatment; some vets believe it reduces the chance of skin infections from scratching. Because proper dosing of any supplement depends on your dog's size, talk to your vet before starting a regimen.
(Remember that your dog may have adverse reactions to some medications--avoid these 10 Pills That Poison Your Pet.)
One of the best-studied treatments for pet allergies, Atopica (the active ingredient is cyclosporine) delivers medication targeted specifically to cells that play a large role in inflammation. Very effective in up to 70% of dogs, this drug is usually recommended if your pet suffers year-round (rather than seasonally), and it's safe for long-term use, unlike steroids. The biggest drawbacks?
A prescription can be expensive (a 30-day supply costs approximately $100), and around 10% of dogs initially experience side effects such as vomiting, though these often lessen with time.
For a trigger-specific treatment, customized allergy shots may be the answer. If you opt for this route, be prepared to give Fido daily injections. This sounds scary, but it's usually accepted calmly by your dog, especially once he comes to expect it. The first step used to be identifying triggers with a time-consuming test performed by your vet, but this may no longer be necessary. Some pet doctors now offer "regionally specific" shots, which include the most common allergens in a geographic area, so your dog's dose doesn't have to be tailored, making the process faster and easier. Here’s advice on how to pick the best vet for your pet.
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When Food is the Foe
Only 5 to 10% of dogs unlucky enough to be allergic are reacting to food, with proteins like beef, chicken, and soy topping the list of triggers. Symptoms mimic those of environmental allergies, but additional problems such as vomiting and diarrhea sometimes arise too.
RELATED: The Secret To A Healthy Pet Diet
If you suspect that kibble may be the culprit, talk with your vet, who can help you and Spot systematically eliminate trouble foods until you've found a diet that will leave you both happy.