MANAGING GREYHOUND ALLERGIES
20 to 25% of dogs suffer from allergies at some point in their lives. Dogs can, and often do, have multiple allergies, often of different kinds. Your Greyhound may be allergic to grass particles, for example, but also to gluten in their food. This only adds to the complexity of diagnosis. Last week we looked at the various types of allergies and their causes. This week we will discuss treatments and home remedies to manage your Greyhound’s allergies and symptoms.
WHAT TO DO
First, acute allergic reactions, such as to a bee sting, are always a veterinary emergency. You will know if it is acute by sudden onset of severe symptoms, often including difficulty breathing. If your dog is suffering from a severe allergic reaction you should take them to the vet immediately, as if left untreated anaphylactic shock can be fatal.
By far the most common allergies are chronic allergies, and the most prevalent of these is atopy or atopic dermatitis – environmental allergies. If your dog suffers from allergies, we first want to eliminate the allergens as much as possible. This could mean keeping an extra clean house to avoid house dust mites or wiping off paws when you come in from outside. Try to identify if there is something new in their environment. Sometimes relatively small lifestyle changes can make a big difference to you and your dog.
The next most common allergy in dogs is flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Even if you don’t see any fleas, if the dog has itching and hair loss in the region from the middle of the back to the tail base and down the rear legs, that most likely is FAD. Response to treatment is very quick, so testing is often not necessary, but skin tests (intradermal) or blood test (IgE blood test) can confirm flea allergy.
About 10% of dog allergies are caused by something in the food that they eat. Food allergy or food hypersensitivity can develop to almost any protein or carbohydrate component of food. It most commonly develops in response to protein of the food; dairy products, beef, wheat gluten, chicken, eggs, lamb, and soy are commonly associated with food allergies in dogs. Food allergy can develop at almost any age. Food allergy may produce any of the clinical signs previously discussed including itching, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress. A dog may have multiple types of allergy, such as both food allergy and atopy making the exact diagnosis of a dog’s itching quite challenging.
Contact allergy is the least common type of allergy in dogs. It results from direct contact to allergens, such as pyrethrins found in flea collars, pesticides used on the lawn, grasses, materials such as wool or synthetics used in carpets or bedding, etc. Contact allergies can develop to practically anything and at any age.
If the dog is allergic to any of these substances, there will be skin irritation and itching at the points of contact, usually the feet and stomach. Removal of the allergen (once it can be identified) often solves the problem.
Dogs with environmental allergies may respond well to hyposensitization, as this can be easier than trying to remove contact with the allergen. Hyposensitization treatment involves giving your dog a small amount of the allergen trigger by mouth or as injections every one to four weeks. Exposing the dog’s immune system to small quantities of the allergen can stimulate an immune response that can lead to a build-up of immune tolerance. You should only begin the hyposensitization treatment after discussing it with your veterinarian, as introducing allergens to your dog in an unmanaged way could lead to a severe reaction.
Success rates vary with this treatment. Approximately 50% of treated dogs will see significant improvement in their clinical signs, while approximately 25% more will see a decrease in the amount or frequency or corticosteroid usage. Hyposensitization is one of the only ways of stopping an allergy, rather than simply stopping exposure to the allergen or treating the allergy’s symptoms.
Atopica (cyclosporine) for dogs is used for the control of symptoms of atopic dermatitis and is well worth asking your vet about. It is not a steroid or an antihistamine. It takes on the most chronic of allergies.
A flea allergy may be helped by a ‘rapid kill’ flea treatment from your vet, and advice on how to treat your house and any other pets in contact with your dog. If your dog’s allergy symptoms are severe, your vet may also prescribe a medication to help deal with them, such as a medicated shampoo or cream for severe itching or an anti-inflammatory to help with any swelling or itchiness.
Food allergy typically does not respond well to corticosteroids or other medical treatments. Treatment requires identifying the offending component(s) of the diet and eliminating them. The most accurate way of testing for food allergies is with an elimination diet trial using a hypoallergenic diet. Because it takes at least eight weeks for all other food products to be eliminated from the body, the dog must eat the special diet exclusively for eight to twelve weeks. If a positive response and improvement of your pet's clinical signs occurs, your veterinarian will advise you on how to proceed.
Although all dogs are different, there are certain foods that are typically less likely to cause an allergic reaction in dogs. These foods include venison, potato, kangaroo and gluten-free oatmeal. Consult with your vet before dramatically altering your dog’s diet. Allergy-friendly brands of dog food are a great way to not only offer your dog a little relief from allergies without medication but to also give them a healthier diet overall. It is possible that trying one of these diets will help the problem enough that you will not have to go through the elimination diet process.
It is not always possible to determine exactly what your dog is allergic to, however. If you have tried to identify the allergens and have not had real success, it may be possible to manage the symptoms to improve your dog’s (and your) quality of life.
There are a number of different treatments for the symptoms of allergies. Which treatment you choose depends on many factors, including the type of allergy, which symptoms are present, the size and age of your dog, your budget, and many more.
If your dog’s allergic reaction involves inflammation of any kind, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs. Treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids, or with antihistamines, will quickly block the allergic reaction in most cases. The side-effects of Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are less severe than steroids.
Popular NSAIDs for treating dog allergies are Rimadyl, also known as Novox or carprofen, Metacam or meloxicam, and even types of aspirin. Always get a prescription from your veterinarian before starting your dog on any medication.
For many years, Benadryl was the antihistamine of choice for dogs. While it is safe, it can make dogs drowsy, and it must be given 2-3 times a day. Zyrtec (generic name: Cetirizine) is now a more popular choice of antihistamine as it is less likely to make dogs drowsy. Zyrtec for dogs can be given just once a day. Other antihistamines for dogs include Chlortrimeton® (generic name: Chlorpheniramine) and Atarax® (generic name: Hydroxyzine).
Newer alternatives exist to block specific chemical signals associated with itch in dogs. These drugs include daily oral medications, such as oclacitinib (brand name: Apoquel®), and long-acting injections, such as Cytopoint®. Your veterinarian can help you determine whether these medications may be appropriate for your dog.
Natural anti-inflammatory treatments, though unproven, are very popular with owners of allergic dogs. Supplements of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which is an Omega-3 Fatty Acid can work in synergy with an antihistamine to reduce allergic reaction symptoms in dogs. Adding fish oil or krill oil to your dog’s food has lots of benefits to skin, even if your dog does not have allergies.
Ginkgo, turmeric, coconut oil, ginger and vitamin C all have anti-inflammatory properties, though you should still consult with your vet before incorporating them into your dog’s diet, especially if your dog is suffering from a food allergy.
Frequent bathing with a hypoallergenic shampoo can be soothing to itchy, inflamed skin. Bathing also rinses out allergens in and on the coat that can be absorbed through the skin. Some therapeutic shampoos also contain anti-inflammatory ingredients that may further benefit your pet.
An oatmeal bath is one type of anti-itching treatment you can do at home. For an all-over body soak, grind up one cup of whole oatmeal in a clean coffee grinder or food processor to make a fine powder. Next, fill your tub with warm water and add in the oatmeal powder. Mix the oats into the water and then put your dog into the tub. Pour the water on his body and have him soak for about 10 minutes before thoroughly rinsing him off, using lukewarm to slightly warm water. Always rinse your dog starting from his head and work your way down your dog's body, rinsing until the water runs clear.
AGAINST FLEAS & TICKS
If you are wary of chemical flea treatments, try this natural aloe cedarwood spray:
- 4 TBSP gentle skin astringent (like witch hazel)
- 4 TBSP aloe vera juice
- 10 drops lavender essential oil*
- 20 drops cedarwood oil*
Mix all in a spray bottle. Shake well and spray on your dog’s coat once a day.
*Note on essential oils for pets: use care with essential oils – be sure to only use ones that are deemed safe and dilute appropriately
AGAINST ITCHY SKIN
For relief for your dog’s itchy skin, try this 50/50 apple cider vinegar spray:
- 5 TBSP apple cider vinegar
- 5 TBSP water
Mix and spray affected areas (do not get in eyes or nose).
AGAINST ENVIRONMENTAL ALLERGENS
A home hyposensitivity remedy for mild environmental allergies is raw, local honey. Raw, local honey contains microscopic amounts of different pollens/bacteria/microbes from the bee’s environment, some of which could be causing your dog’s problems. This microscopic exposure can help desensitize the immune system to the allergen. A small amount added to your dog’s food every day is adequate.
Hot spots are caused by scratching itchy areas, then the irritated areas get infected. If left untreated, painful hot spots generally only get worse. You can help them to heal with this aspirin tea:
- 1 plain black tea bag
- 1 Cup lukewarm water
Steep teabag in water for 15 minutes. Then add aspirin (325 mg for 40 lbs). Mix until dissolved. Clip area and disinfect. Take some gauze, soak it in the tea, and apply to the wound, holding it there for a few minutes. Do this 3 times a day.
Aloe vera gel can also help hot spots feel better.
Another thing you can do for any allergies is build up your dog’s immune system to help it fight off any allergic reactions. Next week we will look at ways to do this.
Dog allergies can be very distressing for dog and owner alike. With proper management, however, allergies don’t need to stop your pup from leading a full, happy and healthy life.