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Dogs with Allergies May Get Tasty Treatment

Dogs with allergies can be treated with drops

Dogs with allergies often scratch, bite, and lick themselves until their skin is raw and they lose their fur. While allergy shots are a treatment option, a new study found allergy drops to be just as effective as injections, and tasty too.

Skin allergies in dogs are common

Like their human companions, dogs can get allergies to everyday allergens such as house dust, mold, pollen, plant fibers, and feathers. In dogs, this common allergy is called atopic dermatitis, in which dogs have an inherited tendency to develop immunoglobulin E antibodies when exposed to these and other allergens that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

About 10 percent of dogs are affected by atopic dermatitis and have symptoms such as scratching, face rubbing, head shaking, sneezing, watery eyes, licking at the paws, and runny nose. Over time, dogs can experience hair loss, deep scratches in the skin that can become infected, seborrhea (flaky peeling skin that can be oily), and ear canal infections.

Immunotherapy through the use of allergy shots is a common way to treat dogs who suffer with atopic dermatitis, but this requires pet parents to either bring their dog to the vet every few weeks for about a year or learn how to do the injections themselves. Allergy drops that could be easily placed in a dog's mouth would be a welcome treatment option.

At the recent World Congress of Veterinary Dermatology in Vancouver, British Columbia, Douglas DeBoer, professor of dermatology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, presented the results of a new study that used allergy drops to treat skin allergies in dogs.

DeBoer treated 217 dogs who had skin allergies with the allergy drops, which must be given once or twice daily for several months. He noted that about 60% of the dogs showed significant improvement, and this was not the only benefit from using the drops.

While some dogs can experience a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction to allergy injections, DeBoer found that even dogs who had had such a reaction in the past responded favorably to the allergy drops. Noted DeBoer, "Drops appear to be safer than shots in this respect." That's apparently because the drops work differently than do allergy shots.

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Yet another advantage to allergy drops versus shots is that many pet parents are not comfortable giving their dogs injections and, according to DeBoer, "may not even have the dog evaluated for that reason." Therefore the availability of allergy drops will open the door for many more dogs to be treated for this uncomfortable and sometimes serious condition.

Although any dog can experience skin allergies, some purebreds (and also mixed breeds) are more susceptible. Some of them include the American Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Golden Retriever, Irish Setter, and Standard Poodle, among others.

Other treatments for skin allergies
Use of allergy shots for dogs who have atopic dermatitis can be a year-round affair and expensive. Other treatment options for itchy dogs can include antihistamines, which are typically successful in less than half of dogs treated, or corticosteroids, which can have serious side effects, including destruction of joint cartilage, suppression of the immune system, increased urination, obesity, high blood pressure, and stomach ulcers, especially if used for a long time.

Adding omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil to a dog's food can help with symptoms in some dogs, but don't expect to see results for at least a month. Omega-3 fatty acids also have other health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, improving skin and haircoat, and supporting heart health.

Natural shampoos that contain aloe vera and/or colloidal oatmeal can be helpful when dogs are bathed often (every 1 to 2 days) until itching decreases. Switching dogs to a natural, whole foods diet that does not include hormones, chemical preservatives, and other additives also has been shown to help some dogs.

DeBoer noted that the allergy drops "have a slightly sweet flavor, so most dogs actually like them." For dogs who have skin allergies, getting a sweet treat rather than a shot sounds like good medicine.

Giffin JM, Carlson LD. Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook. Howell Book House.
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine

Image: Tim Schaefer