A Guide to Paw Biting, Allergies & Shedding, Part 2

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Welcome to the second of a three-part guide to a few of the common maladies that plague our canine companions. Left unaddressed, these seemingly minor issues can cause your dog pain or discomfort and, of course, create a source of anxiety for yourself. Over the series, we will identify the typical causes behind these ailments with some tips and tricks that might save you and your furry friend a trip to the vet. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1: Paw Biting and check back for Part 3: Shedding (coming soon).

Part 2: Allergies

A dog scratching his head.

Environmental allergens, whether inhaled, touched, or ingested, can lead to allergic skin disease in dogs. This happens when the immune system has become overactive, and mistakes non-harmful environmental substances (allergens) as dangerous threats. Depending on how your dog encounters the substance and how they react to the allergen, a variety of skin, digestive, and respiratory symptoms may occur. This typically happens after repeated exposure to potential allergens.

Dog allergies usually fall into one of these categories: Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), Environmental or Food. There are limitless things your dog can be allergic to and only your vet can test and confirm the culprits by a physical exam, blood test or food elimination if a food allergen is suspected. Practice precaution when your vet offers prescribed drugs as allergy treatment. Many drugs simply mask the symptoms of allergies without addressing the root cause, and certain drugs used to stop the allergic cycle can have serious side effects for your already suffering dog.

The most common allergy symptoms in dogs:

  1. Itchy, red, moist, oozing or scabbed skin
  2. Increased scratching
  3. Itchy, runny eyes
  4. Itchy back or base of tail (most common flea allergy)
  5. Itchy or inflamed ears and chronic ear infections
  6. Sneezing
  7. Vomiting
  8. Diarrhea
  9. Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
  10. Paw chewing/swollen paws
  11. Constant licking
  12. Coughing or sneezing; asthma
  13. Nasal discharge
  14. Secondary bacterial or yeast infections causing: hair loss, scabs or crusty skin

Generally speaking, if your dog is allergic to something inside your house, they’ll have symptoms all year long. Outdoor allergies tend to be more seasonal.

Allergies: Top Causes and Remedies

A dog chews at her hind leg.FLEA ALLERGY DERMATITIS (FAD)

Flea Allergy Dermatitis is a sensitivity to flea saliva and is quite common in dogs. It’s the flea’s saliva that causes most of the itching as opposed to the bite itself. This results in irritation that’s out of proportion compared to the actual number of fleas on your dog, which for a dog with FAD, just one or two flea bites can be enough to make them feel miserable long after the fleas have died. And an itchy dog can keep both your dog, and you, up at night.

ENVIRONMENTAL ALLERGENS (ATOPY)

While the number of potential allergens are limitless, the most typical environmental allergens are:

  • Tree, Grass, and Weed pollen
  • Mold Spores
  • Dust and House Dust Mites
  • Dander
  • Feathers
  • Cigarette Smoke
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Perfumes
  • Cleaning Products
  • Fabrics
  • Insecticidal shampoo
  • Rubber and Plastic Materials
  • Fleas

If it turns out your dog has an environmental allergy, you’ll want to do everything you can to reduce that allergen inside your home.

VACUUMING
Regular vacuuming of your floors, rugs, carpet, and drapes can cut down on dust which can help take care of dust – a known allergen to pets and humans.

BEDDING
Washing your pet’s bedding at least once a week, and vacuuming at least twice a week, can help remove, dust, mites, and fleas and their eggs.

SHAMPOOING
Even if your dog doesn’t have fleas, bathing with a gentle or prescription shampoo can remove pollen that settles on your dog’s skin & coat during outdoor walks and play time. But be prudent. Over bathing can dry out your dog’s skin which can exacerbate the itchiness.

FOOT SOAKS
Soaking the paws or wiping down with PawsGive Aloe & Oatmeal Grooming Wipes, can reduce the amounts of allergens being tracked into the house.

FOOD ALLERGIES

Like people, any dog can develop a food allergy at any point in their life. This can even happen to a dog that has been eating the same food for months or years. Food allergies can cause significant skin problems, such as hot spots, rashes, bald spots, sore inflamed skin, and even earaches.

A dog lay prone near a food bowl.

Dogs need diversity in their diets. Your dog might be allergic to the single source of chemically-laced protein she’s been getting (the meat in commercial dog food tends to be loaded with antibiotics and hormones, which can cause an immune system overreaction). They can also become sensitive to other ingredients in the food such as potatoes, grains and starches. These fillers can cause stress on the immune system over time and lead to an allergic response.

The only way to diagnose and treat a food allergy is to get your dog on a short-term elimination diet or switch their current protein and carb sources. This allows the allergen to be completely removed from your dog’s system and gives their body a chance to recover. It is extremely important to stick to this diet until you know for sure what your dog is allergic to. And keep in mind, any additional treats could set back your dog’s recovery and cause an allergy flare up.

Dogs with food allergies typically respond best to homemade or raw diets once the allergen has been discovered. The least amount of grains and starches the better as these can exacerbate concurrent allergic issues such as staph and yeast infections.

WAYS TO BEGIN COMBATING FOOD ALLERGIES

A dog looks up towards a table.SWITCHING FOOD
A food elimination diet or switching your pet’s protein and carbohydrate sources for 12 weeks is your best bet in treating food related allergies. We recommend discussing a plan with your vet to help figure out which food ingredients are causing an allergic reaction in your dog.

ESSENTIAL FATTY ACID (EFAS) SUPPLEMENTS
Despite the fact that many dog foods will list an Omega 3 or 6 in their formula, the way the food is processed can ultimately destroy the fatty acids. This means that your dog is being robbed of the EFAS they need to support their skin, coat, and immune system. They can also receive too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3 which also causes problems. Omega 3 and 6 are called essential fatty acids because the body cannot produce them on their own. They need to be supplemented in your pet’s diet, but in the proper ratios. Always choose a supplement with more Omega 3 than 6. The source is also important when choosing one that is best for your dog. Krill provides a superior source of phospholipid-bound Omegas, whereas straight fish oil contains Omegas in the triglyceride form. The phospholipid form offers more bioavailability and is also water-soluble.


DRUG TREATMENT
Treating with a drug is not the ideal choice for many reasons, but if your pet is not responding to an Omega supplement or change in diet, it may be your only solution to alleviate them from their misery. Antihistamines or corticosteroids can help by modulating the immune system. While this will give your pet some very welcomed relief, keep in mind that it doesn’t eliminate what is causing the reaction. Talk to your vet about a plan to find the allergens and put your dog’s allergy issues in the past once and for all.

Watching your dog suffer from allergies can certainly pull at your heartstrings, but thankfully there are measures we dedicated dog owners can take to help them out. It may be a long road to determine what your dog is allergic to and how best to treat the allergy, but with a little bit of persistence, you can do your part to improve your dog’s quality of life.


For more useful tips and tricks to keep your dog healthy and happy, check out the full series:

Images and text courtesy PawsGive.

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