Skin Allergies – and your canine friend

in Community Insight

There are a multitude of causes of pruritus (itching) in dogs and it is impossible to cover all of these in one article. Where pruritus is the presenting symptom this condition can be broadly be divided into two categories: one is parasitic and the other is allergic dermatitis.

There are a multitude of causes of pruritus (itching) in dogs and it is impossible to cover all of these in one article. Where pruritus is the presenting symptom this condition can be broadly be divided into two categories: one is parasitic and the other is allergic dermatitis.

Today I shall be dealing primarily with the main cause of allergic dermatitis, which is atopic dermatitis.

The cause of this is allergens in the environment; microscopic molecules that translocate across the skin and result in histamine release mainly by mast cells in the sub-epidermal tissues. This histamine release causes pruritus, therefore the dog scratches itself; this then breaks the skin barrier and damages the skin’s protectant layers allowing bacteria, usually Staphyloccos aureus, to cause a secondary skin infection. These skin infections are often seen as concentric rings and are often confused with ringworm (a fungal infection). This secondary skin infection in itself also causes inflammation and more pruritus, this causes more itching, and therefore a cascade effect is set off. 

When neglected and treatment is not sought promptly enough the problem can escalate, with further yeast infection and often more pathogenic bacteria invading the affected areas. At this point the dog has a particularly pungent odour and you are looking at a long protracted course of treatment to bring the condition under control. 

The equivalent in humans to atopy in dogs, again broadly speaking, is asthma. Due to the different distribution of mast cells in dogs these develop skin problems as opposed to coughing and respiratory problems. In the cat on the other hand feline asthma is particularly common, but that is a topic I will leave for another day. 

The areas of principally affected by atopy in dogs are those with poor coat cover and often areas of increased movement, and it generally first presents when the dog is over a year of age. Most classical sites affected are the groin, axilla, ventral areas, feet and ears. If your dog has recurrent skin problems in the afore mentioned regions then you are more likely than not dealing with an atopic dermatitis and therefore treatment must be tailored at this. 

Another pattern you might notice is you might find that the condition is seasonal; again this can often be correlated very closely with people who suffer from asthma. For example if the flare up is in spring then it is likely to be caused by the increase in pollen in the atmosphere. If the flare up is in colder periods when these allergens are markedly reduced then the condition is most likely to be caused by house allergens, the main culprits being house dust mites. In the winter dogs will seek more warmth and blankets are a great habour for these mites. Keeping the bedding clean is not sufficient: washes have to be at high temperatures to kill the mites otherwise all you are doing is giving the mites a shampoo and blow dry and putting them back. 

Treatment is a relatively simple affair but it will be a minimum of three weeks of aggressive therapy, usually when the dog is presented for treatment the skin is already infected, and skin infections need an obligatory period of three weeks of antibiotics and adjunct medicines, shampoos etc. One of the main shortfalls of treatment is not giving the animals medication for long enough, therefore the problem recurs rapidly and the clients become disenchanted. 

The biggest challenge once the condition is diagnosed is trying to control the illness long term with prophylactic therapy. There are a multitude of options available, there is no specific treatment plan to treat all dogs, and it has to be tailored to each individual case. This varies with the severity of the problem and the response to treatment by each individual animal, so sometimes patience is a virtue. 

Allergic skin dermatitis in dogs is due to many allergens pushing the pet over the allergic threshold, therefore in some cases medication is not needed, possibly by reducing some of the allergic challenge, for example feeding a hypoallergenic diet, may be sufficient to stop the pruritus. Again remember that the problem might be seasonal and therefore what might work in summer might not work in winter or vice versa. 

In summary if your dog has recurrent skin complaints with itching, usually affecting the same regions then your pet is probably suffering from atopic dermatitis and the earlier it is treated the better and the easier it is to manage the problem. 

For more information please phone Gibraltar Vetinary Clinic on 200 77334

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