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The Christmas Itch... STILL!

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Last week we spoke about the different types of skin allergies in dogs. Remember that "atopy" (caused by environmental allergens) is by far the most common type, and that food allergies are diagnosed by doing a diet trial under the supervision of your vet. In fact, it's possible that some dogs have a combination of these two conditions and that, consequently, these dogs will benefit from both diet modification as well as treatment which is specific for atopy.

Skin allergy treatment is multifactorial and can be frustrating, time-consuming and expensive, so it's vital that you and your vet work together to find the solution that best manages your dog's itch. Here's how we think allergies should be tackled:

  • Once the diagnosis of atopy has been confirmed and your vet is sure that your dog's diet does not need to be changed, treatment should be targeted at making your poor pooch's skin less itchy. This involves treating any secondary skin infection from bacteria and yeasts with appropriate medication and shampoos; you see, these infections make the itching far worse and simply perpetuate the problem.
  • The skin can be made less reactive to and irritated by allergens by trying various medications. There are steroid hormones, which are usually highly effective and safe to use at low doses for short periods of time only. Antihistamines should also be tried, as they are safe and cheap - but keep in mind that they work in only 10-20% of dogs. Cyclosporin is another medication which is very effective for severe cases, and it doesn't have the side effects of steroids - however, it's extremely expensive, so is only practical for small dogs. Omega three fatty acid supplementation can also help reduce skin reactivity but needs to be tried for six weeks before you can determine if it's making a difference or not.
  • You can reduce your dog's exposure to allergens by washing her regularly (at least once weekly), as well as washing her bedding in order to reduce dust mite exposure. Keeping her away when mowing the lawn, vacuuming and dusting may also help.
  • The use of allergy vaccines to hyposensitise your dog can also be very effective. This involves blood tests at the vet to determine how the vaccine should be made. Then you need to administer the course of injections to your dog at home (after your vet has shown you how, of course!). Keep in mind that this needs to be done for 6-12 months, and that 25% of dogs won't respond to this treatment. However, for those that do, it certainly is worth it.

Daunting? Maybe a little, as you try to discover the cause. But don't give up hope - skin allergies can definitely be managed!

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