What we commonly call skin allergies actually are the end result of an immunological overreaction to some allergen in the environment that leads to a mild, moderate or severe adverse skin response. The goals of treating canine skin allergies are to identify and eliminate - or at least minimize and manage - exposure to the offending allergen(s), relieve the dog’s distress and restore its comfortable quality of life.
Treatment Options for Dogs with Skin Allergies
Effective treatment of allergic skin reactions depends on the cause of the condition. For example, if the dog has flea bite hypersensitivity, where the allergen is flea saliva, treatment requires eliminating the dog’s exposure to fleas. If the dog is allergic to something in its food, that ingredient should be identified and removed from its diet. If the dog has a skin reaction to something it inhales from the environment, the offending airborne allergen needs to be identified and kept away from the dog. Appropriate treatment protocols can be influenced by the seasonality of a dog’s condition and by the time and monetary considerations of its owner.
The gold standard for treating inhalant and some contact skin allergies is to identify the allergens and then gradually administer small doses of those allergens under the dog’s skin over time, in an attempt to desensitize its immune system. This is called allergic-specific immunotherapy, or ASIT. ASIT reportedly is helpful in up to 70% of dogs, although it is not available everywhere and is expensive. Flea bite allergies, food allergies and most allergies to identifiable environmental allergens usually can be treated or at least successfully managed by identifying the causative allergens and keeping them away from the dog.
There are many over-the-counter and prescription shampoos, lotions, gels and other salves that can help soothe the itchiness caused by skin allergies. Oral medications, including antihistamines, essential fatty acids and anti-inflammatory corticosteroids, together with or in addition to commercial allergy diets, can also be extremely beneficial. These products can help owners manage the scratching and associated self-trauma that often accompany skin allergies and that increase the dog’s risk of developing secondary bacterial or fungal infections. If skin infections are present, antibiotics or antifungals can be prescribed by the dog’s veterinarian.
A number of different physical restraints, including Elizabethan or “lampshade” collars, bandages and even tee-shirts or sweat shirts, can be used to keep a dog from bothering its itchy skin until other treatments kick in. Specialized tight-fitting lycra bodysuits are also available to serve the same purpose.
Prognosis for Dogs with Skin Allergies
The outlook for dogs with skin allergies is quite variable, depending on the underlying cause of the dog’s symptoms. In many cases, skin allergies resolve with effective parasite control, dietary management and/or topical treatments. Unfortunately, some dogs continue to experience symptoms while the exact cause of their condition remains frustratingly elusive.