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The Christmas Itch

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Does your dog scratch and scratch... and scratch? Does he chew at his skin and lick his feet all the time? Have you been told he has allergies and it feels like you're always visiting the vet because the damn skin never seems to stop bothering your dog! Are you going out of your mind with frustration and worry!!!?

The simple fact is that skin allergies affect your dog for life. You have to view the situation like you would any other chronic disease (in other words, it's not just a Christmas itch ). You have to aim for management of the condition and that means understanding it so that you can keep your dog's itching (and your frustration and worry levels) under control.

This week we'll give you some information about skin allergies in dogs, and next week we'll continue this topic by discussing the different ways they can be treated. There are three main types of allergies seen in dogs: flea allergy, food allergy and atopy (an allergy to inhaled substances).

Flea allergy is pretty self-explanatory and easily treated. It is, in fact, uncommon in the UAE - fleas don't pose a big problem to pets here in the Emirates because, in fact, they are seldom found in homes (thank goodness!).

Food allergies are allergies to one or more ingredients in your dog's diet and generally start in older dogs, although they can sometimes be seen in young animals too. Your dog may have been on the same diet for years but then suddenly develops a sensitivity to an ingredient in it and will start scratching. The only way to diagnose this allergy is by a diet trial, carried out strictly for 8-10 weeks. Your vet will be able to guide you as to the ins and outs of this process.

The third type of allergy is atopy and this is by FAR the most common. It's an allergy to inhaled (airborne) environmental allergens such as dust, dander, pollens and molds, and here are some interesting facts about it:

  • It's a heritable condition and has a genetic base. Ideally, you would not want to breed with an affected dog.
  • Breeds that seem predisposed to atopy include: Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Shar Peis, Shih Tzus, Lhaso Apsos, Boxers, Pugs, Cairn and West Highland White terriers.
  • Atopy starts as early as 1-2 years of age but as the dog becomes older, the condition often worsens.
  • Atopy may be seasonal or non-seasonal, depending on the environmental prevalence of the offending allergens.

There now, wasn't that a fun Christmas topic!!? That's all for now, but please do read next week's column for more info on all this AND treatment tips. And have a Happy New Year!

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