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Anyone who has ever tried to sleep in a room with an itchy dog can tell you that canine allergies are miserable for both pets and people. People get runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezing or wheezing when allergies flair. In dogs, the problems are mostly skin-related: They scratch, chew their skin, rub against stationary objects or shake their heads in frustration from itchy ears.
Allergies typically show up within the first three years of a pet's life and worsen with age. Sadly, they can't be cured, only controlled. Knowing what causes allergies is an important first step toward treating them, and that means getting your veterinarian's help.
Flea bites are a top cause of these allergies, but food and environmental issues are a problem for many dogs. Dust, pollen and spores in the home and yard gather in the pet's fur, and the allergens trigger reactions.
Your veterinarian will have specific suggestions for your dog, your region and your season, but in general, you can help a great deal by instituting an allergy-prevention regimen in the home. Dedicated parasite control is the first step, and that will mean veterinary-recommended flea-control products along with frequent vacuuming of pet areas and washing of pet bedding.
You should also limit the amount of dust and other irritants pets sweep up by keeping floors, furniture and other surfaces where dogs and dust connect clean. Air filtration systems help, though if you smoke, you should quit. Secondhand smoke bothers pets, too.
You may have heard that frequent shampooing strips the skin of essential oils, but veterinary dermatologists now recommend bathing allergic pets at least every week (up to every day for extremely at-risk allergic pets) during the spring and summer. This helps wash allergens off the coat and skin before they can trigger an allergic reaction.
While regular flea control, a clean house and frequent bathing may dramatically decrease your pet's allergic response, more powerful treatments are often needed to help a pet ditch the itch. Fortunately, veterinarians have new treatment options that may make a world of difference.
You probably know a person who takes shots to manage his allergy symptoms. Known as immunotherapy, or hyposensitization, these small injections of allergens under the skin can also be effective for many dogs with atopic dermatitis (the medical term for what pet owners call "constantly itchy skin"). Pet owners can administer the injections at home with guidance from their veterinarians, and many dogs respond well to this treatment.
To fight the skin reactions to allergens that trigger scratching and chewing, there is another option. Your vet can prescribe a medication that calms the cells that trigger an allergic response rather than treating the symptoms after a reaction — all without the side effects of steroid shots or pills. Ask your veterinarian if this treatment is right for your pet.
Of course, it's not just about airborne allergens or parasites: Pets suffer from food allergies as well. Allergic reactions to pet food are usually caused by proteins and can include beef, egg, milk or cheese products, soy and even fish. If food allergies are suspected, your veterinarian will guide you through food-elimination trials to find the culprit and then recommend a diet that won't trigger an allergic response.
With modern veterinary options and a world of new products to help, allergies in dogs can be managed better than ever before. That means you and your pet will both sleep better.
This article was written by a Veterinarian.
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