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We've talked about the three key types of allergies in dogs - environmental allergies, food allergies/sensitivities, and contact allergies...
Now, this is a good time to be aware of other common itchy, inflammatory problems that are often misdiagnosed and have different root causes from the usual dog allergies. And may have very different solutions to getting and keeping your dogs well!
Here's how to arm yourself with the questions and answers that can help you and your dog get on top of allergies before you start on the long road to allergy shots or medications.
Often misdiagnosed issues every dog parent should know:
Common issue 1: flea allergy dermatitis
A leading (and frustrating!) cause for itchiness in our dogs, fleas can trigger an allergic reaction through flea bites. As with other pet allergies, flea allergy dermatitis in affected dogs is the body’s immune response to a substance – in this case, flea saliva injected into a dog’s skin when the flea bites.
Even one flea bite can cause flea allergies and itching for days. (Commonly affected areas with flea allergy dermatitis tend to be your dog's lower body and around the base of the tail.)
What to watch for with your dog
It's possible to have a flea infestation and NOT see fleas on your dog. Fleas only remain on your dog long enough to feed, so they can easily be missed.
- One tell-tale sign you have a flea infestation is if YOU have mysterious itchy bites, particularly around your ankles. If you start to itch too, look at the possibility that you're dealing with fleas. Quick and strict flea control at the first sign is a must for fast-multiplying fleas as you attend to your possibly allergic dog.
- Here’s the kicker - dogs with other forms of allergies, such as environmental, tend to be more sensitive to flea bites. So you could be dealing with a double-whammy of itch. Another reason to set your dog up for a strong immune system ahead of time by keeping an eye out for everyday environmental allergens you can control!
- Other bug bites: dogs can also react to bites from other bugs like blackflies. Blackfly bites are often misdiagnosed as tick bites, because they appear with a red “bullseye” ring, one sign of a tick bite in humans. But, tick bites on dogs actually don't produce a red bullseye. If you see red bullseye type marks on your dog – most commonly the belly, it's likely a common pest like the Blackfly.
Common issue 2: yeast overgrowth
Many dogs with “allergic reaction” symptoms actually turn out to have yeast overgrowth from being in warm, moist environments where yeast loves to grow, having skin folds (including floppy ears), or taking antibiotics. Dogs who are stressed and have compromised immune systems are also very susceptible to yeast.
What to watch for in your dog
In most dogs, yeast overgrowth symptoms can look a lot like dog allergy symptoms.
Does your dog have any of these "allergy" symptoms?
- Itching, particularly on the stomach, sides/armpits and paws
- Licking of the paws incessantly
- Ear discharge, often dark-colored
- A cheesy, bread-like smell on the body (more than the normal “Fritos” feet smell )
- What appears to be hyperpigmentation (darkened skin) on the belly and/or pink skin
In many cases, yeast is a secondary problem to something else, like food allergies, fleas, etc. But once the yeast overgrowth begins, it takes hold and spreads quickly. Once there, it can be a challenge to get rid of. Dogs can itch for several weeks post-treatment, and it is not an easy fix.
Spoiler alert – it involves a lot of bathing and application of topical products – but it IS treatable with some patience and dedication. We will get to that later in this series.
Common issue 3: triggers in your pup's environment for your dog's symptoms
SO many things we barely notice in our dog's world can trigger allergic reactions that can present like skin allergies, seasonal allergies, allergic dermatitis, etc.
What to watch for with your dog
We covered many of these in our contact allergy and environmental/inhalant allergy discussion in Part 1 of our Itchy Dog Series. They're often misdiagnosed because they are so easy to miss.
That's what makes it so important to keep an active eye out for what can seem like an otherwise harmless substance even BEFORE they're an issue for your dog:
- detergents & cleaning products with harsh chemicals
- cigarette smoke
- artificially scented products
- lawn care products (pesticides, herbicides)
And the list goes on... take a look at my other workshop "Going Green" to help edit these common toxins from your dog's environment (and yours!)
Less common, but often overlooked causes behind your dog's allergic reactions...
Flavored medications often contain artificial flavorings that can trigger allergic reactions in dogs.
Also, common flea & tick preventatives can cause adverse reactions. You can read my article “Ditch the Chemicals” here to learn more about products that can cause adverse reactions in pets, particularly allergic dogs, as warned by the FDA.
(One of my own dogs, Carli, lost all her fur as the result of one of these products and we haven't used chemical preventatives since. Instead we use a multi-layered approach with natural tick products that have kept our three dogs tick-free for five years now.)
Change in weather/climate
I've worked with many rescue dogs who have moved from one climate to another (warm island weather to Canada's cold, for example). It can take some time for the skin to acclimate to a new climate causing dry, itchy skin (from a hot/humid to cold move) or the reverse causing moist, yeasty, itchy skin and ear infections (from cold to warm/humid).
Some breeds are known to be predisposed to skin sensitivity: West Highland White Terriers, Wire-haired Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Bulldogs, English Setters, Boxers, Dalmatians, Shar-Peis, and more. Also, so-called “blue” dogs, diluted-colored dogs, and light-colored dogs can be more prone to skin issues. Plus the mixes of all these breeds. Needless to say, it's a long list!
Fungal & bacterial infections
Bacterial & fungal infections of all kinds can present similarly to allergies with various allergic symptoms: like your dog's itching, irritated skin, scaling, red bumps/pustules, or hair loss. These infections and related skin symptoms need to be determined by a veterinarian (often using a skin scrape test) and will need medication to be treated properly.
Nutrient deficiencies or excesses in your dog's food
Signs of this can present in many different ways, from lameness to vision problems, but also with skin and coat issues. Whether a commercial diet with deficiencies or a homemade diet that has not been formulated by a professional and balanced with essential nutrients, it's critical to ensure you are meeting all the recommended amounts of the vitamins and minerals essential to your dog’s body function.
Beware of home-cooked recipes shared online from well-meaning pet parents who aren't trained in nutrition requirements that meet our dog's needs to be healthy. Good, clean nutrition is one of the best tools we have to set up our dogs for a strong, preventive immune system. We all know our dog's healthy immune system protects our pups against disease and conditions like allergies.
From a food allergy to flea allergy dermatitis to a common allergen in your home, ask me any and all questions you have about your dog.
Or share any of your own experiences with your dog's allergies - I'm here!
And next up in this Itchy Dog series, some natural treatment options and techniques to address your dog's environmental allergies and food sensitivities!