I will tell you a little story about Dino. Dino is now a 9 month old Rhodesian Ridgeback. He is a beautiful dog as you can see but suffered from allergies. After a few courses of antibiotics, antihistamines and some skin moisturiser cream we finally got his skin under control. About 1 month later it all came unstuck and Dino got worse again. After some careful history taking we realised that the Dino was being walked by a dog walker and in the preceding month until 3 days ago he had not been taken to a particular park Astrolabe park in Pagewood. 3 days ago he went to Astrolabe park and the rest is history. (It should be noted that Dino reacted to something in the park and plenty of dogs go to that park, so it is not the park that is at fault it is Dino’s immune system not being able to cope).
There are many things that can cause itchy skin. Fleas, mites, infection (bacteria and fungus), food, endocrine disease, contact allergens (grass, materials, chemicals including shampoo’s, plants airborne particles), moulds and dust mites, and finally behaviour problems. Getting to the bottom of the ‘Itchy Pet’ can sometimes be very difficult and challenging and takes time. A dog that is only itchy in Spring/Summer is often an easier diagnosis where as a case that is itchy all year round can be very hard.
Atopic dermatitis is a disease in which there is an inherited tendency to develop IgE antibodies in response to exposure to allergens that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin. This extremely common allergic skin disease is second only to flea allergy dermatitis in frequency, and affects about 10 percent of dogs.
Atopy begins in dogs 1 to 3 years of age. Susceptible breeds include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Wire Fox Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Dalmatians, Poodles, English Setters, Irish Setters, Boxers, and Bulldogs, among others, although any dog may be affected. Even mixed breeds may suffer from atopy.
In early canine atopy, itching is seasonal and the skin looks normal. Dogs scratch at the ears and undersides of the body. The itching is often accompanied by face-rubbing, sneezing, a runny nose (known as allergic rhinitis),watery eyes, and licking at the paws (which leaves characteristic brown stains on the feet). In many dogs the disease does not progress beyond this stage.
When it does progress, an itch-scratch-itch cycle develops with deep scratches (called excoriations)in the skin, hair loss, scabs, crusts, and secondary bacterial skin infection. These dogs are miserable. In time, the skin becomes thick and darkly pigmented. A secondary dry or greasy seborrhea with flaky skin often develops in conjunction with the skin infection.
Ear canal infections may accompany these signs, or may be the sole manifestation of atopy. The ear flaps are red and inflamed, and the canals are filled with a brown wax that eventually causes bacterial or yeast otitis.
Canine atopy diagnosis can be suspected based on the history, location of skin lesions, and seasonal pattern of occurrence. Skin scrapings, bacterial and fungal cultures, skin biopsy, and a trial hypoallergenic test diet should be considered before embarking on an involved course of treatment for atopy. It is important to treat and eliminate fleas. The majority of dogs with canine atopy are allergic to fleas and may have an associated flea allergy dermatitis complicating the picture.
Treatment: The most effective long-term solution is to change the dog's living circumstances to avoid the allergen. The atopic dog is usually allergic to many different allergens, however, and often it is not possible to avoid exposure to them all. This has been the example of Dino where by avoiding the park has barely had an itch.
There are a variety of treatments available to dogs that suffer allergic skin disease or atopy. It is important to talk to us first to discuss this before embarking on treatment. Food allergy although low down on the list as a cause of itching, is an easy one to change. We have also discovered that dogs allergic to house dust mites often react with grain mites and will benefit from diets with no grain. At Vet HQ we use a combination of fish oils, antihistamines, and topical medications and shampoos as our first line of defence. Every case is potentially a little different and so it is important to consult with us prior to commencing treatment. Occasionally Corticosteroids may have to be used to control the itch, however these are used sparingly and long term use is defiantly not advised.
Dogs who do not respond to medical treatment can be considered for immunotherapy with hyposensitization. This involves skin testing to identify the allergen(s) and then desensitizing the dog to the specific irritants through a series of injections given over a period of 9 to 12 months or longer. Some dogs will require periodic boosters during times when allergens are heavy.