By David the Dogman
Allergy is a disease in which the immune system reacts abnormally to every day substances such as pollens, animal dander, mold spores, mites, certain foods and chemicals. All of these allergic reactions are unpleasant, some are serious, and a few can be fatal. The offensive substances causing allergies are known as allergens. An allergic reaction may be caused by inhaling or ingesting the allergen or may be the result of direct contact with the allergen.
What are the signs of allergy? The most common signs are scratching, face rubbing and biting and chewing at the skin. Usual locations for signs of allergy are the flank, feet, face, particularly around the eyes, mouth and ears, as well as areas around the base of the tail. In dogs, allergies are often the underlying cause of persistent skin disease. However not all scratching is due to an allergy. Conditions such as thyroid disease, fleas and certain infections, such as ringworm, can cause similar signs.
How do dogs get allergies?
They are generally inherited. The typical allergic dog starts with a short period of biting and chewing the first year. This may be mild and hardly noticeable. With repeated exposures to the offending allergens, the dog gradually experiences prolonged periods of discomfort and more severe signs. Allergies occur whenever the offending allergens are present. The more common allergens such as house dust mites or mold spores will produce signs of allergy year round, while allergies from plants that pollinate during warm months only happen at that time.
Food allergy can happen by itself or it may be a component of an overall allergy problem. Because of the complexity of allergy diagnosis, the combination of patient history, physical examination and allergy signs in the pet are all important in making an accurate diagnosis. Can allergies be prevented?
Since allergies are inherited, there is no absolute way to prevent them. However allergies can be controlled.. The best control is achieved through avoidance of the offending allergens, so if, for example, your pet is allergic to fleas, it is better to prevent flea infestation. But allergens like dusts and mites are virtually impossible to avoid resulting in the need for alternative allergy treatments.
How do I know if my dog has allergies? If your dog is persistently chewing its feet or scratching at its face, allergy may be a possible cause. Unfortunately, there are no specific signs for allergy so you will need to rely on your pet's vet to make that determination.
Allergy diagnosis requires eliminating other causes for your dog's clinical signs. This involves taking a detailed history of your dog's signs, a complete physical examination and some preliminary laboratory tests. If it is found that an allergy is the likely cause, your vet may recommend allergy testing to confirm the diagnosis.
How are allergies treated?
There are a number of different ways or combinations of ways to treat allergies. If it is mild, control may be achieved through avoiding contact with the offending allergens and medications to control the clinical signs. In pets with more severe allergies, or in pets where allergies occur year round, specific allergy treatments such as immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be needed. This is often recommended because prolonged use of certain medications, especially steroids, reduces itching, but produces serious side-effects which may decrease the quality and length of your pet's life. The vet may, therefore, discuss various alternative treatments with you based on your needs and the needs of your pet.
How successful is treatment? The success depends on several factors including the overall health of your dog, the severity of the allergies, and a commitment to therapy. In general, the steps to successful allergy treatment involve the following:
1. Trying to avoid or reduce the allergens in the environment.
2. Giving recommended medications to control clinical signs, and
3. Identifying the specific allergens causing clinical signs in your pet, followed by allergy immunotherapy.
This combination will result in successful allergy treatment for most pets.
Allergies to dogs.
Sneezes, rashes or asthmatic reactions can be triggered by any breed of dog. Dandruff from the top skin and certain proteins in saliva and urine cause allergic problems in humans. Most research on allergies caused by pets has centred on those created by cats. This is not surprising because they are twice as likely to make their owners sneeze as dogs. For example it has been discovered that cats with long hair tend to shed less allergen and so their owners have fewer reactions. Cats with short hair give off more allergen.
Sufferers should keep their dogs outdoors at night. Certainly dogs and cats that live indoors should not be allowed on beds or even in the allergic person's bedroom. However research has shown that if a cat or dog is washed once a week the airborne allergens are cut drastically.
Dandruff collects on the carpets and in upholstered furniture so for those suffering allergies it is better to be without carpets and have wooden furniture or leather. If it is impossible to remove carpets then these should be steamed cleaned every three months to remove allergens. It is also advisable to wash walls and floors.
Animal allergens are very small and very sticky and once they are secreted they dry on the animal's fur. There they stick until becoming airborne during petting and grooming. Then, because they are so small, they can stay airborne for a long time and, because they are sticky, they adhere to walls, clothing, and heating and cooling ducts.
Some years ago I gave up smoking and noticed that I was coughing and choking when handling dogs. After a few tests I was told: "Mr. Dogman you are an asthmatic and allergic to dogs." Sadly I now have to take all kind of things to help control my allergic symptoms from medication to inhalers and I wash my hands more than a surgeon, change my clothes several times a day and wash my dogs every week.
But with all my allergies I could not live without dogs because I know that dogs enhance our quality of life and are worth having around. So, if you are allergic to dogs, don't give up on them, they are still worth having around.
Article extracted from David the Dogman's A-Z Guide to Dogs available all bookshops ( ISBN 84-89954-08-9 or can be ordered on www.thedogman.net
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