Every summer my German Pointer mix goes through the same horrible cycle of allergies with the skin on her underbelly. There's very little fur there to begin with, which I think leaves it vulnerable to exposure to contact with various allergens in the yard? (She rolls around quite a bit. Our yard is not chemically treated at all.) It's obviously very itchy to her and she chews at it mercilessly until it's raw and scabby. We go through cycles of antibiotics and prednisone; topical treatments seem useless because she licks it so much. We've tried less aggressive approaches as well in the past--fish oil comes to mind--I know prednisone can have side effects. Last summer even the prednisone never completely got rid of it, though. Is there something different we could try that might be more effective?
Seasonal itch in dogs is usually due to either fleas or pollen/grass allergies. I recommend strict monthly flea control to eliminate the flea possibility, but with the history, your dog likely has pollen/grass allergies. Options for allergy treatment are to treat symptoms with medications (such as antibiotics for secondary skin infections, antihistamines, fish oils and soothing 1-2 times weekly shampoos for itch, or if milder therapies don't work, occasional steroids or Atopica/cyclosporin); vs. allergy testing and desensitization for allergies to identify and treat the cause of the itch.
Allergy testing and desensitization injections are ideal for dogs in which the milder therapies don't work, or in dogs that have symptoms lasting longer than 2-3 months/yr, since we worry about steroid side effects if given long-term. You can talk to your veterinarian about allergy testing options. Allergy testing can be done with a blood test (which is more convenient and can be performed by most primary care veterinarians, but may be less accurate than skin testing), or by intradermal/skin testing (usually performed by veterinary dermatologists, requires a light sedative and shaving, considered the “gold standard” of allergy testing). Allergy hyposensitization injections are given every 1-4 weeks (the dose and frequency of the vaccine are different for every pet), and are helpful in 70-75% of allergic pets to reduce symptoms and needs for medications; some pets are “cured” and only need the vaccine, some still need some symptomatic medications such as antihistamines, and some still need steroids, but at lower doses and less often or only during certain seasons. 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.
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
Dermatology Clinic for Animals of Las Vegas
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