Summertime is here in full force in Florida and with the sunshine and outdoor activities we all enjoy comes something that every dog owner hates - itchy dogs. Skin problems are the most common problem that we see dog owners bring their dogs in for treatment for and they can be frustrating for owners to deal with at times. There are numerous reasons that dogs itch, which leads to scratching, licking, biting and chewing, but the most common that we see are fleas and allergies. Fleas are ever prevalent in Florida but worse in the warmer months. The good news is flea control has never been easier with many easy to give monthly (or longer) products available. The bad news is allergies, which just like in us humans, are extremely common in Florida and they are not something that we can cure for good, also just like in people.
The most common cause of allergies in dogs is not food as many owners think - it's called atopy. Atopy is an allergic reaction to the same things that we react to - oak pollen, pine pollen, grasses, mold spores, all the various weeds and plants outside. Basically dogs can be allergic to almost anything a person can. The difference is how dogs react and can be summed up in one sentence:
People who have allergies have sneezing and respiratory signs (think hay fever) while dogs respond to the same things in a different way - ITCHING!!
The symptoms of allergies can be treated in dogs just like people but it's not a one size fits all approach. There are many different ways allergies cause problems in dogs - skin infections (scabs, crusty spots on the skin), ear infections, infections on the feet, and hot spots which are extremely itchy, moist areas that pop up quickly. The best approach is to stop the itching before it starts as much as possible and head off a lot of the issues before they develop. We use everything from shampoos, topical sprays and creams, antihistamines and occasionally steroids to control itching and it's always best to start small and work up the ladder of treatment options to minimize side effects and cost.
The take home message for allergies is this. They are extremely common in dogs, they are frustrating for owners to deal with and sometimes it takes a few tries to find the best medicines for your pet. After all there's a reason there are a dozen different antihistamines available at the local drugstore for you and at least that many more nasal sprays available from your MD. Once we find something that works for your dog, don't stop using it. Prevention is the best approach. Again, think people - taking a Zyrtec or Claritin everyday is much better than sneezing constantly, having itchy eyes and ending up with a sinus infection and feeling miserable.