Dog Allergies in Oklahoma City, OK: What You Need to Know

Allergies can be complicated to diagnose, and even more complicated to treat, especially when our dogs can’t verbally explain what they’re experiencing. What are allergies? It’s the body’s misguided attempt to protect itself from a perceived invader.

Dog Allergies in Oklahoma City, OK

What are Dogs Allergic to, and How Do We Manage Them?

Dogs can be allergic to nearly all the same things that humans are. Often, narrowing down an environmental allergen requires professional testing. Management is not about eliminating or preventing allergies, but rather it’s about controlling symptoms and improving the dog’s comfort.

Symptoms of Environmental Allergies

Symptoms of environmental dog allergies usually include itchy skin, frequent skin infections, ear infections, thickened, irritated skin in high contact areas like armpit or groin, hair loss, watery eyes, frequent anal gland problems, and itchy feet.

Symptoms of Food Allergies

Food allergens are even more difficult to diagnose. While food allergies are technically easy to manage if a strict diet is followed, any introduction of a reactive food source (like picking up some fallen food) can cause a significant relapse, making it complicated to manage. Dogs that have frequent ear infections and frequent anal gland issues are likely to have food allergies.

Environmental Dog Allergies

There is extensive documentation demonstrating that dogs can be allergic to humans, pollen, dander from other pets, dust mites, insect bites, grass, and many, many more things. So how can we tell what they’re allergic to? There are multiple allergy testing resources available to veterinarians. Often, a blood sample is obtained and sent to a specialty laboratory where testing is done, and your veterinarian will receive the report, detailing which allergens your pet may be sensitive to.

Treating Environmental Allergies

If it’s possible, you can try to remove the source of an allergen, but most of the time, that just doesn’t work. If your dog is allergic to humans or other pets in the household, it’s not fair to anyone to upend life entirely. But if your dog is allergic to your houseplant, or allergic to the kind of pillow on your bed, or allergic to the fibers your sweater is made of, those are easy-to-execute changes.

Wipe their Paws

Other than removing allergen sources, you can take some basic steps to manage symptoms if they’re not severe. If your dog is allergic to grass or something else in the soil, you can rinse or wipe their feet and legs routinely to reduce allergens on their fur/skin.

Medications and Medicated Products

There are topical treatments available too, including veterinarian-prescribed medicated washes, and veterinarian-prescribed topical medications. Using over-the-counter medications or medicated products isn’t recommended, because their quality and efficacy are questionable, and they could do more harm than good.

Systemic Treatment

The gold standard for environmental allergy management though, is systemic treatment. This means a treatment that is geared toward body-wide treatment for the issue. Antihistamines are one example, but most antihistamines are falling out of favor with veterinarians because they’re proving to be less effective than originally thought.

Other Options

Steroids are another option, though regular long-term use is not recommended because it can cause liver and kidney issues, affect the adrenal glands, and even stimulate the development of other diseases like diabetes. The current top-tier treatment options for environmental allergens include Allergen Immunotherapy (oral allergy drops or allergy injections), allergy-specific oral Immune suppressants (such as Apoquel), or a revolutionary antibody therapy (known as Cytopoint).

Allergen Immunotherapy refers to a heavily diluted allergen mix that is customized to the patient receiving it. The extremely minute amount of allergen present in the drops or injections gently reduces the dog’s allergic reactions over time.

The immune suppressants and antibody therapy are each newer therapies that have proven very effective and reducing the immune system’s over-reaction, and do a great job at keeping allergic pets comfortable, and their skin healthy.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are much more complicated to truly diagnose than environmental allergies. While allergy testing can be done and might point you in the direction of some food products, there is great concern amongst veterinary specialists that food allergy testing can have a lot of cross-reactivity (meaning they’ll show as allergic to something that they’re not) rendering results largely inaccurate. The gold standard diagnostic tool for food allergies is what’s called an elimination diet.

There is a common misconception that all or most or many dogs are allergic to grains and that’s why they have allergies. This has been debunked by veterinary dermatologists, immunologists, and nutritionists many times over.

Elimination Diet

An elimination diet involves feeding a veterinarian-selected diet (often a prescription product) that has been specifically formulated to have significantly reduced allergens compared to any over-the-counter diet. This is often achieved by hydrolyzing the protein source (and sometimes the carbohydrates) for the diet- hydrolyzing breaks the ingredient’s molecular size down so that it is smaller, and less easily recognized by the body, thus making it difficult or impossible for the body to inappropriately react to it.

The diet must be fed as the sole source of nutrition for at least 8 weeks. This means no human food, no other pet foods, no treats, no rawhide chews, no peanut butter or pumpkin or any other treat-toy stuffing, and no “topping off” the food with broth or veggies or meats. If, at the end of the 8-week period, signs of food allergy have subsided or at least reduced significantly, it is likely the pet has food allergy. This is where the process can get complicated.

Owners can elect to continue feeding the prescription diet long-term if they’re happy with the results. All prescription veterinary allergy diets are formulated to be safe and nutritionally complete, making them a viable option for long-term use. If, however, an owner wants to know what the allergen is, the next step involves the diet challenge- introducing a single food source at a time and assessing response.

What Happens Next?

After the allotted 8 weeks of strict dietary management, a single food source can be introduced. Often the veterinarian chooses a single protein source (like beef, chicken, or pork) to start offering in addition to the prescription food. Clinical signs of allergy can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks to return. If a reaction is noted that protein source is then eliminated from the dog’s diet entirely and owners will be cautioned to avoid it in the future. If no reaction is noted that protein source may be considered safe for consumption. The process can be repeated as needed to garner a list of acceptable food sources, but between each bout of reaction, the 8-week strict diet must be followed.

For dogs who react to the most common protein sources, there are “novel protein” diets available but use caution. Only a veterinary prescription novel protein diet can be guaranteed free from other potential allergens. Veterinary prescription novel protein diets are produced on machinery specifically dedicated to only ingredients intended for those diets. If at any point the production equipment needs to be used for another diet, strict cleanliness and sterilization protocols are observed. Veterinary novel protein diets are also strictly quality-controlled, down to the ingredients coming into the food production plant. Contaminated products will not be used to make these diets because they put the health and safety of the consumer (the allergic dog) at risk.

The same cannot be said for over-the-counter diets, whose producers often run multiple diets across the same production lines (causing ingredient cross contamination). These diets also don’t have the same degree of quality control for incoming ingredients as the prescription products. Certainly, quality control is good, enough to keep otherwise healthy pets safe, but it’s not strict enough for food-allergic dogs.

Many owners will balk at the cost of prescription veterinary diets of all kinds, but it’s important to understand the difference. While you might not like the ingredient panel in a prescription diet as compared to a boutique brand available over the counter, the amount of professional education, science, and testing that goes into creating prescription diets is incredible.

Your Veterinarian Can Help Your Dog Deal with Allergies

Dog allergies of any kind can be difficult to diagnose and treat but know this; your veterinarian has the tools and education necessary to help you get your pet back to their normal, happy self. For your pet’s health and comfort, if you suspect your dog has food or environmental allergies, make an appointment or call Hefner Road Animal Hospital in Oklahoma City, OK at (405) 773-5557.

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About Hefner Road Animal Hospital

The bond shared between people and their companion animals is a bond that endures. At Hefner Road Animal Hospital, we have seen this firsthand since our veterinarians began serving the Oklahoma City community in 1998. It is our privilege and our pleasure to be able to contribute to that bond by delivering excellent veterinary medical care and compassionate service to area families. Many of our staff members have been with us since the very beginning and are dedicated to making our animal hospital a place of healing, comfort, and respect for animal welfare.