Itchy Dog Season – Allergic Skin Disease in Dogs

Spring has arrived and my sinuses are telling me the pollen is abundant early this year. Dogs that suffer from atopic dermatitis get terrible rashes on their feet, ventral abdomen, groin and axilla (arm pit) and of course their ears.

When Dr Rob was an undergraduate, science used to think the allergens were inhalant ie the dog breathed them in. All of our information was based around human asthma. Dogs got an “atypical” presentation with a skin rash which was termed “atopic dermatitis”. This leads to chronic skin and ear problems in dogs and it is frustrating for veterinarians and infuriating for dog owners. Dr Rob has been going to evening lectures at the dermatology clinic at Murdoch University with Mandy Burrows for the last 11 years to learn as much as he can about this frustrating problem. Australind Vet is up to speed with skin problems in dogs.

Recent studies have found that these dogs have a skin barrier defect. Skin has a protective barrier which is dysfunctional in dogs with atopic dermatitis. Pollen contacts the skin and passes transdermally activating an allergic reaction. Mast cells release histamine that causes the inflammation, redness and pruritis (itch). Antihistamines, sadly, do little to help this problem in dogs.

Your skin looks just like a brick wall under the microscope. The cells of the dermis and epidermis are bound together with a waxy, proteinaceous “glue” called ceramide. Ceramide is like the mortar between bricks in a brick wall. In dogs with atopy, their ceramide is missing a protein called sphingosine. Dogs with atopy have very dry skin because their skin loses water easily because of the faulty skin barrier. Your dog commonly has “dandruff” or reacts badly to shampoos and becomes dry and “scurfy” after washing. To go with very dry skin, allergens such as pollen and dust mite can also cross this faulty skin barrier. This leads to an allergic reaction which manifests as scratching, biting, constant licking and rubbing and in some cases mutilation.

What can be done. Your dog may need to have treatment at your veterinarian to get it under control. Once it is under control, there is some things you can try. Call Dr Rob at Australind vet if you need advice on managing your dogs’ skin problems.

The only way of curing this disease currently is to have your dog desensitised. Skin prick tests and blood tests are done to determine what your dog is allergic to and small vaccines for immunotherapy (desensitisation) are made up. Current practice is to do “rush therapy” and have your dog desensitised rapidly and then to start monthly injections. The process is faster and more streamlined today leading to better compliance and better results. Approximately 65-70% of animals respond well. Even animals that aren’t cured usually do a lot better.

This is a really good reason to have your pet insured. Skin disease in dogs is common! Atopy may not show its face until 18 months-2 years of age. If your dog has pet insurance, it can be treated appropriately and potentially cured of this terrible affliction.

It is allergy season again. WA has some of the highest pollen counts in the world.

You can avoid walking your dog on the grass, not letting them roll around on the grass when they go out and rinsing them off when you get home. You must NOT use a shampoo that contains soap. Soap dries the skin. Dogs with atopy have naturally dry skin and washing them in medicated shampoo is like putting petrol on fire.

We recommend a shampoo called PAW Nutriderm. This is a soap free shampoo that comes with a moisturiser that contains a barrier to help protect your dog. Washing the pollen off as soon as you get home can help but you must use a shampoo that won’t dry the skin. PAW Nutriderm is perfect for this. If you keep the dog inside as much as possible and rinse them off after walking, you can reduce the effect of the pollen. Most of the pollen is grass pollen which is wind pollinated and hence airborn. It is impossible to avoid it completely unfortunately but you can reduce the impact.

Many of these dogs develop secondary infection however which really needs antibiotics or medications for yeasts to help control the dermatitis. Yeast is very itchy indeed. Remember that medicated shampoos can actually make the problem worse. This point is lost on pet shop suppliers that will happily sell you lots of products that are ineffective and in some cases actually make the problem worse.

For treating itchy dogs, call Australind Vet on 97971584. Dr Rob is a Bunbury vet that can really help.

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