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The 5 most common allergies and skin conditions in dogs

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Our pets can develop allergies and skin conditions in the same way that humans can. Unfortunately, they cannot tell us what the issues are so sometimes it is hard for pet parents to notice the symptoms straight away. Here is a guide to some of the most common allergies and how to treat them.

Dogs suffer from a variety of different skin conditions and allergies that routinely need a vet’s attention. Here are the 5 most common skin conditions found in Australian dogs:

1. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

Flea allergy dermatitis should be fairly self-explanatory. It’s the most common skin disease in pets, and results from an allergic or hypersensitivity reaction to the flea’s saliva during feeding. Contrary to popular belief, dogs don’t need a huge flea burden to develop a reaction, and in fact can develop FAD if they have only 1-2 fleas on their body.

Flea treatment for dogs

Fleas can cause problems for dogs at any time of the year. The best treatment is prevention, which can be done with management of the skin allergy and disease. Short-term treatments can include topical steroids, antibiotic creams or shampoos, and oral antihistamines, steroids and antibiotics. Use a gentle, sulphate-free shampoo designed just for dogs as well, as you don’t want to strip the skin’s oils, especially if you’re using a spot-on flea treatment.

2. Atopic dermatitis (Atopy)

Atopy in dogs is the second most common allergic skin disease. It is caused by a general allergic or hypersensitive reaction to an indoor or environmental allergen. This can include plants, pollen, dust mites and mould spores. Atopy results in itching, especially in skin folds like the flanks and armpits. Over time it progresses to infection and generalised dermatitis. Many of these microscopic allergens penetrate through the skin directly as dogs with this condition often have a genetically inherited skin barrier defect.

How to treat Atopy in dogs

There is no cure for atopic dermatitis and long-term management is needed. There are three main strategies to do this:

  1. Remove the allergens from the skin
  2. Manage the infection and inflammation
  3. Repair the skin barrier

Regular shampooing with mild medicated or soothing shampoos such as PAW Mediderm Medicated Shampoo or PAW NutriDerm® Replenishing Shampoo, can help to treat any discomfort. In addition, the skin can be moisturised using rich conditioners containing ceramides such as PAW NutriDerm® Replenishing Conditioner.

Other treatments include skin allergy testing and immunotherapy, medical management  through antihistamines, steroids or antibiotics.

Your dog can also gain some relief from PAW Dermega® Omega 3 & 6 Oral Supplement, an omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid nutritional supplement and Dermoscent® Essential 6 Spot on for Dogs, a topical fatty acid and essential oil treatment.

3. Food allergy dermatitis

This condition, which can also include food intolerances, is much less common than FAD or Atopy. It usually develops from one year of age onwards. If you suspect your dog may be suffering a food allergy, it is recommended to change to a strict food elimination trial diet for three months. This usually involves feeding your dog a sole protein diet using food that your pet has never had before, e.g. kangaroo and pumpkin, and nothing else. If the symptoms improve over this time, there is a possibility your dog has a food allergy. At the end of this time, test your dog by going back to the regular diet and monitor if symptoms recur. If they do, chances are it is a food allergy. The best solution is to work closely with your vet to find out which food is the cause. The most common allergens in dogs in Australia are beef, chicken and wheat.

How to treat dog food allergies

Once you know what proteins or foods your dog is allergic to, simply avoid them in the diet. Alternatively, feeding a commercial diet with hydrolysed proteins can be an option in some cases.

4. Mange

Mange is a skin disease of dogs, which is commonly caused by two types of mites: Demodex or Scabies. Demodectic mange is the more common of the two. Demodex mites are normally found on all dogs and don’t usually cause any problems. However, when there is an abnormality in the dog’s immune system, either in the skin or body, Demodex mites can thrive, causing hair loss and skin damage. This is followed by secondary bacterial infections and itching. Dogs with Demodex often don’t itch in the beginning. Often the first symptoms you will see are spots of hair loss starting on the face. Scabies, whilst less common, is extremely itchy and is usually contracted from native wildlife, such as wombats, or other infected dogs. It is more common in rural areas or suburban fringes. Scabies, but not Demodex, can also be passed on to people so if you start itching, make sure you tell the vet.

How to treat mange in dogs

Both conditions are treated by administering the appropriate parasiticide until symptoms disappear. These mites are treated very differently, so it is important to go to your vet for an accurate diagnosis. The vet will do a skin scraping procedure before starting treatment.

Read more: Sarcoptic mange in dogs

5. Hot spots

Hot spots are another common skin disease seen on dogs. It’s medical name is traumatic pyodermatitis. It usually appears as a discrete moist patch of hair loss on your dog’s skin that is very itchy. Often, it can be purulent with a discharge of pus, which tends to smell bad. They can be caused by anything that irritates your dog’s skin including infections, wounds, flea bites, etc, leading to the dog chewing at the skin. It then gets worse through persistent chewing and licking, which in turns causes further infection and itching. These wounds usually end up with a secondary bacterial infection.

How to treat hot spots in dogs

Treatment usually involves clipping and cleaning the affected area, followed by a dose of topical antibiotics. In severe cases, oral antibiotics or corticosteroids may be prescribed to help reduce the itching, offering quick relief to your dog. Using a calming gel such as (TriDerm Calming Gel®) before it gets infected and itchy can relieve and cool sensitive skin.

There can be many reasons why your dog may have itchy or irritable skin. Hopefully you are now armed with the information you need to get on top of your dog’s scratching. If your dog's symptoms persist, please consult your local vet clinic.