In the first part of this post, we talked about ways that allergies can affect your dog. But once you know what the problem is, what can you do to relieve your dog’s itchiness?
It’s that time of year when pollens are plentiful and allergic dogs are itching mad. A realistic answer is prescription medication, but even then there are things you can do to reduce the dose or even avoid drugs altogether. How do you achieve this?
Enter the “law of summation”: Lots of little things added together make one big thing. But it can also work in reverse: Take away little things, and the big thing gets smaller. With this in mind, let’s look at how you can help your itchy dog feel more comfortable.
1. Better Skin Health
In allergic dogs, pollens trigger the itch when they contact the skin. So when the skin is healthy, it provides a better barrier to stop allergens in their tracks.
Simple steps such as regular grooming improve the blood supply to the skin and condition it. Brushing also keeps the coat clean and healthy so it doesn’t harbor bacteria and yeasts that drain the skin’s immune system.
Also, a good-quality diet promotes healthy skin from the inside out.
2. Food Supplements
Omega-3 oils have many beneficial effects, one of which is being a natural anti-inflammatory. They won’t reduce the itch on their own, but by strengthening the skin and interrupting the inflammatory cascade, these oils can reduce it.
- A typical dose is 66 mg/kg each day (so a 10 kg Westie needs 660 mg a day)
3. Regular Bathing
OK, allergens contacting the skin trigger allergic reactions. So how about washing those allergens off?
If you live near the sea, this could mean a quick dip in the water (although keep the skin moisturized afterward) or regular bathing. Use a gentle shampoo, preferably one with moisturizing properties such as oatmeal or aloe vera.
This way you get a double benefit: reducing the allergen load while conditioning and hydrating the skin. In fact, the benefits don’t end there — cleansing the skin reduces the number of bacteria and yeasts on the surface, which could act as secondary invaders and make the itch worse.
Some dogs benefit from bathing every 3 days.
4. Avoiding Allergens
Many atopic dogs are allergic to things like grass sap, so exercising them on freshly mown grass is like a red flag to a bull in allergic terms. Keep them off the grass (away from the triggering allergen), or bathe them immediately afterward.
5. Consider Contributing Factors
OK, so your dog has atopy — meaning they have a sensitive immune system that’s liable to overreact. If they react to pollens, then you can guarantee they’ll be allergic to flea bites. Make sure they are regularly treated with effective parasite products.
Also, consider the role of a food allergy. It’s not unusual to have both food and environmental allergies, so it’s worth putting the dog on a hypoallergenic diet for a couple months to see if it helps.
6. Immunotherapy Vaccines
The vet can develop a bespoke vaccine that reduces your dog’s sensitivity to allergens. There are pros and cons.
- A non-drug treatment
- In 3–4 out of 10 dogs, it makes a big difference
- Can make the difference between taking meds or not
- Not all dogs respond
- It takes months to start working, so start in the autumn to benefit the following summer
This sweet pup wears boots to keep her grass allergy at bay:
No article on allergies can get away with not mentioning antihistamines. However, the news isn’t encouraging: Dogs don’t respond as well as people do, and the effects are largely disappointing.
Speak to your vet about setting up a trial of 3 different antihistamines to see which works best — but don’t bet the house on it.
8. Spray Steroid
This remedy treats the skin rather than the whole dog.
Instead of giving steroid tablets or jabs, ask your vet about a steroid spray. This safe, side-effect-free option gives relief where it’s needed without entering the bloodstream.
And sometimes meds are the best option. These include:
- Steroids: Inexpensive and effective, but prone to side effects
- Atopica: Effective but expensive; fewer side effects than steroids
- Apoquel: The golden bullet: effective and safe — but, sadly, expensive
10. Remember: Common Things Are Common
Parasites cause itching. Don’t assume all itchy dogs have an allergy. They may simply have fleas.
So save yourself a bucketful of bother and treat your dog regularly against parasites.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed April 21, 2017.