One of the most common skin problems we see in dogs, especially during the spring and summer months is skin disease caused by allergies. Flea allergic dermatitis-an allergic hypersensitivity to flea saliva is very common, but atopy, an allergy to inhaled allergens like pollens, is also very common and can cause intense scratching. Other common allergens, not necessarily seasonal, include foods, tobacco, house dust, mites, wool, feathers, and many molds.
We can often tell a lot from the location on the body that seems to be most affected. With atopy, for example, the lesions seem to be more concentrated in the groin area, near the lower back, thighs, and feet, and also around the face and ears. The skin will become red and inflamed, and the intense scratching often causes skin sores and scabs. Since many dogs allergic to pollens will also have other allergies, there can be a lot of overlap, especially with flea and food allergies. A complicating factor with many skin allergies is a secondary skin infection that can start once the skin is inflamed from the allergy. Skin infections also itch, which contributes to the very common "itch-scratch cycle" which must be treated.
Allergies can't be cured, but they can be controlled. Our goals of treatment are to reduce the clinical signs-the itching and the discomfort, and the secondary skin infection, while we try to identify what might be causing the allergies. Obviously, one can try to practice avoidance with allergens like foods and even fleas, but it's pretty tough to avoid pollens and other environmental allergens.
Identifying what triggers the allergy is often a challenge, and veterinarians have their preferences as to what allergy tests they like to use. Ideally we like to try to identify the offending allergens with tests, and then follow with hypo-sensitization injections at home. This process isn't always effective, or practical for some pet parents, however, so we concentrate on treating the clinical signs--relieving the itching and controlling the skin inflammation. Though antihistamines and steroids are effective at reducing allergy symptoms, their potential side effects may make their use problematic, especially if needed year round. So, we recommend using medicated baths, skin and coat supplements with omega-3 fatty acids, antibiotics for secondary skin infection, and controlled doses of antihistamines and oral cortisone type drugs under close monitoring. These treatments will make a world of difference for your uncomfortable pet!
So, if your pet seems to be scratching certain areas like crazy, or has been having persistent or seasonal skin problems, chances are he or she may be suffering from allergic dermatitis. Allergies may not be curable, but they can certainly be controlled.