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Why Are Allergies Becoming More Common In Dogs?

Image source: @DonnieRayJones via Flickr
Image source: @DonnieRayJones via Flickr

This time of year allergies are on everyone’s mind. But the fact is, many people and pets suffer from year-round allergies as well. Today it seems as if allergies are not only steadily on the rise with people–but also with our canine friends. Dr. Denise Petryk, Trupanion’s directory of veterinary services answered our questions about allergies in dog.

Why do you think we are seeing more and more dogs with allergies? 

DP: There is no clear answer to the question of increasing allergies, but there are a number of theories as to why this may be the case. For people, there are many theories ranging from an excess of additives in food, to genetic modification of foods, to a lack of cooking. The CDC is a great source of information for the human side of things. Dogs are affected by many of the same main allergens as people, including food, pollens, environmental factors, and fleas, and veterinarians are learning more and more about pets’ allergies and reactions to the environment. Additionally, pet owners have more access to advanced care and treatments for allergies.

Image source: @playerx via Flickr
Image source: @playerx via Flickr

In dogs, I would propose that food allergies are more commonly suspected than they once were because:

  1. The power of science! Veterinarians now have a better understanding of “cutaneous adverse reactions to foods,” or food allergies, than historically before.
  2. Improved testing and improved foods available to perform excellent food trials helps us determine exactly what a dog is allergic to.
  3. More veterinary specialists (dermatologists) are now available in all major U.S. cities, giving pet owners access to excellent care and diagnoses for their pet.
  4. Genetics impact a pet’s risk of developing allergies and how severe they may be. There are many breeds that are unfortunately much more prone to illness than in the past. Many popular breeds experience an explosion in population that can lead to irresponsible breeding and an increase in genetic diseases and certain traits. For example, many Golden Retrievers have allergies because many of their predecessors were bred despite their signs of allergies.
Image source: @LeeHaywood via Flickr
Image source: @LeeHaywood via Flickr

In dogs, I would propose that inhalant allergies to dusts, grasses and other environmental things (atopy) are more commonly diagnosed because:

  1. Better testing is available to pet owners through their family veterinarian.
  2. Veterinarians know much more about these allergens than in the past and have access to a great arsenal of treatments like Apoquel.
  3. Changes in the climate and environment impacts pollen count and air quality, which will influence a pet’s allergies.
  4. Genetics also impact a pet’s risk of developing seasonal allergies and how severe they may be. Many breeds, especially popular breeds, are unfortunately much more prone to illness than in the past.

Is there a time of year when allergies are “worse”?

DP: The timing of allergies will depend on where you live and the lifestyle of your dog. Food allergies are not seasonal, but environmental allergies can match when people experience the worst allergies. After looking at national trends, Trupanion found that, pet allergies seem to peak in late summer—specifically August. The combination of allergic responses with the increase in dry, warm temperatures can add to the discomfort and expression of seasonal allergies.

Image source: Petarmor.com
Image source: Petarmor.com

What are the most common allergies suffered by dogs?

DP: Dogs can be allergic to a number of things, from food allergies, environmental or inhalant allergies, respiratory allergies, flea allergies, and many things in between.

Allergy symptoms are similar to human symptoms. They include itchy or irritated skin, eyes, nose, or ears, coughing or sneezing, ear infections, diarrhea, and a swollen throat or paws. You should keep an eye out for excessive licking or chewing and take your pet to the veterinarian if they start to show symptoms.

Symptoms for many kinds of allergies can be identical. For example, both a dog allergic to chicken and allergic to fleas will be incredibly itchy. They may experience itching, red eyes (conjunctivitis), skin infections, ear infections, loose stool, coughing, and sneezing.

Image source: Drsfostersmith.com
Image source: Drsfostersmith.com

What are some ways to prevent allergies?

DP: If you are thinking about purchasing a dog from a breeder, do your homework. Research the breed you are interested in and their allergy risks and ask plenty of questions when choosing a breeder and puppy.

If your pet does develop allergies, there are many things you can do to relieve your pet of allergy symptoms.  Your veterinarian is a great resource and can provide the best options for your particular pet. They can help you choose a high-quality diet for your pet and advise which medications may be safe.

To help your pet at home, give them frequent baths to remove any surface allergens from their coat and skin, wash their paws to prevent them from tracking allergens into the home, and keep the areas where your pet frequently resides as allergen-free as possible by cleaning the space often.

 Image source: @ConnySandland via Flickr
Image source: @ConnySandland via Flickr

Any suggestion for people whose dogs are allergic to grass – so their dog can still enjoy the outdoors?

DP: Your veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist will be able to provide the best advice about your particular pet. Even with a grass allergy, there are excellent treatments available so your dog can have a great life and enjoy the outdoors.

Are there any home or natural remedies that work against allergies?

DP: Keep your house clean and dust-free. HEPA filters, low-dust flooring, and low-dust dog beds can help your pet stay comfortable at home. You can also bring pet-safe house plants into the home to help cleanse the air. Some plants are excellent air filters, like gerbera daisies or spider plants, but make sure you do not bring toxic plants into your home and your pet does not ingest them!

Get Him Tested

If your dog seems to be bothered by things, take him to the vet to get him tested. Be warned, allergy tests and the ensuing medications can be pricey. Having pet insurance can help alleviate that burden, as some insurances cover these tests as part of their basic plans.

For example, Trupanion covers 90% of eligible veterinary costs, including medications and diagnostic tests for allergic reactions, to help pet owners provide their pets with the best possible treatment for allergies. When allergies begin for a pet, a blood and skin test must be conducted and they can cost several hundred dollars. Allergy injections and allergy medications, especially atopic ones can also be quite costly, often ranging from $50-$200 per prescription.

*Note: Trupanion covers tests and medications if the allergies develop after enrollment.

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Written by Kristina Lotz
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