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My dog took 75mg Benadryl twice

a day for a month. No relief.
Changed food to a mix of sweet potatoes, venison. No relief.
Took Prednisone and was itch free in 24 hours. Continued taking, reducing to 1 tab every other day until Rx finished ( 2 weeks ). I have been giving her 20mg Zyrtec every day during this course of treatment ( stopped Benadryl when I started Zyrtec ).
Scratching started again within a few days after finishing Prednisone about 2 weeks ago. She is still on Zyrtec.
She does not have fleas, and this is the first year experiencing this problem.
Type of Animal
Age of Animal
3 years
Sex of Animal
Breed of Animal
Last date your pet was examined by a vet?
April 10, 2010
United States
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Sorry to hear you are having trouble with you pet.  Skin problems are very common this time of year and can be very frustrating.  From the information you provided, it appears that you have been trying to account for allergies with only steroids working.  A dietary change was made to rule out food allergy.  Hopefully the heartworm preventative you are using is not flavored with beef to effectively rule out food.

At this time, you may want to request a referral to a veterinary dermatologist to further pursue the problem.  The dermatologist will most likely perform a skin test for allergies.  If positive, an appropriate treatment can be implemented.  The are oral medications that can be prescribed, other than steroids, that may help as well.

I always try to find alternatives to long term steroid use due to the potential side effects.

Good luck.
Pets with allergies to pollen, grass, or dust are affected with atopic dermatitis, or atopy. People with allergies have symptoms such as runny eyes and sneezing, but animals with allergies more commonly show symptoms such as scratching, licking of the feet, and recurrent skin and ear infections. Therapeutic options include treatment of allergic symptoms with topical and oral medications, and allergy testing and desensitization injections to treat the underlying cause of the itching.

Symptomatic Allergy Treatment:
Topical products: Shampoos, conditioners and sprays used for allergies usually contain ingredients that help reduce itching such as oatmeal, topical anesthetics, antihistamines, or steroids. Allergic dogs benefit from frequent bathing not only because of the anti-itch ingredients, but because bathing helps to reduce allergens that are accumulated on the skin and coat. Weekly bathing and daily rinses or wipedowns with a wet washcloth are usually recommended.

Antihistamines: Antihistamines are helpful to reduce itching in 30-40% of allergic pets; no antihistamine is better or more potent than another, and multiple antihistamines often must be tried to find the best one for each individual pet. They also need to be consistently given two to three times daily for benefit. In some pets, side effects can occur such as sleepiness or excitation. When buying over the counter antihistamines, it is very important to select products which do not contain pain killers or decongestants.

Fatty acids: Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids have mild anti-inflammatory effects on the skin, as well as help to decrease skin dryness. They have to be given for 1-3 months before a beneficial effect is seen. Fatty acids also work synergistically with antihistamines to help reduce allergic skin inflammation and itching.

Steroids: Injectable or oral steroids such as cortisone or prednisone have many pros and cons in the treatment of allergies in pets. They are inexpensive and work quickly and effectively to reduce itching, and for short term use they are relatively safe. However steroids have numerous side effects, such as increased thirst, increased urination, increased hunger, and weight gain. With prolonged use at high doses, steroids cause liver enlargement/increased liver enzymes, weakened muscles and ligaments, infections of the skin and bladder, thinning of the skin and hair loss. Animals that are treated with long-term steroids should have regular physical examinations and labwork to monitor for side effects, and other options to treat their allergies and to reduce their dependence on steroids should be tried.

Cyclosporin: Cyclosporin (brand name Atopica) is a relatively new oral medication which can be used as a non-steroid way to reduce allergic skin inflammation and itching. It is helpful in approximately 80% of allergic dogs to control itch. Cyclosporin is given orally daily for 4-6 weeks, then the dose and frequency is slowly decreased to the lowest possible dose needed for comfort. Cyclosporin has fewer side effects than steroids, but because it is still an immunosuppressive drug, regular physical examinations with labwork should be performed in pets on long term treatment. Potential side effects include vomiting and diarrhea, and more rarely skin or internal infections and benign growths on the skin or gums.

Allergy Testing and Desensitization: Allergy testing is performed in atopic pets to indicate which allergens are to be included in a hyposensitization vaccine. Allergy hyposensitization injections are given every 1-4 weeks (the dose and frequency of the vaccine are different for every pet), usually lifelong, and are helpful in 70-75% of allergic pets to reduce symptoms and needs for medications. Rather than just treating symptoms, allergy hyposensitization injections address the cause of a pet’s itchy skin by changing/calming down the hyperactive immune response to the environmental allergens, but require time (2-12 months) for effect, so symptomatic medications are continued while immunotherapy has time for effect.

Summary: Although allergies in pets are not “curable”, they are very treatable and controllable in most pets. Every animal is an individual and often different medications need to be tried or combinations of medications may need to be used for maximal comfort. When the motivated pet owner, family veterinarian and a veterinary dermatologist ( work together, our allergic pets can be helped to live long, comfortable lives.

Kimberly Coyner, DVM DACVD
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