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Ask the experts

Allergic dogs

When dogs are allergic to something, they sneeze and have watery eyes like people when pollens are high. They itch, so they scratch, driving both owner and dog crazy. The dog constantly wakes at night, scratching frantically. He may even dig raw spots into the skin, causing sores and bleeding. Everyone in the house is miserable, especially the dog!

Finding out the cause of the itch can be a frustrating if not an impossible process. Always start with what is most likely to be the cause, which is fleas. A single flea can be tough to see, but you can find out by placing your dog on a light-colored surface and then give him a good scratching, especially on his back just above the tail. Then look at the hair and dander that’s fallen off. If you see small pepper-like black specks, it’s a sign of fleas. Those specks are not fleas, but flea poop, and you should immediately consult your veterinarian for a recommended flea treatment.

Allergies can develop at any age, so even though your dog has been exposed to the same pollens or eaten the same food for years without a problem, their itching could be related to new allergies emerging. If you suspect your dog may be developing new allergies, especially to food, do not change his food right away. Dermatologists recommend you wait a year before changing. If your dog is in the stage where he is developing new allergies, he will become allergic to the new ingredients as well, making it difficult to find a novel food later on. Keep in mind it’s best to feed a high-quality food as a preventative to many health issues.

Working with your veterinarian you may be able to control your dog’s allergy problems. Allergies can never be cured, but they can be managed. Steroid injections can be given to make the dog more comfortable when the itching is at its worst. Accurate allergy testing can be done with a veterinary dermatologist; less-accurate allergy testing through blood analysis can be done through your local veterinarian. Once the testing is done, your dog can get regular injections, which expose him to small amounts of the known allergen, allowing his system to build up immunities.

The allergy testing will identify specific things to which your dog is allergic. While you cannot control the environmental allergies, you can control food allergies. Without allergy testing you can also do trials to discover to what your dog is allergic. Look at the label on the dog food you are currently feeding, and then look for a food that does not have those ingredients. Many dog foods have chicken, beef or lamb as their protein source. Look for duck, salmon or rabbit as a protein source. Read the label carefully and eliminate the grains such as corn and wheat that are common in most dog foods. Then for the next six to eight weeks he should only get that dog food or treats with the same ingredients. If someone tosses him a corn chip, it could cause the allergies to continue.

Allergies like these can be as minor as itching to major hair loss and staph infections of the skin, and severe ear infections. Dermatologists are linking allergies to many skin problems. Ear infections and chronic anal gland problems are relieved when the allergy trigger is finally discovered. It can take a lot of time and some money, but in the end most owners spend less on antibiotics and steroid shots, and the dogs live a more comfortable and often longer life.

Tip of the week: If your dog is scratching himself raw, always consult your veterinarian to rule out a parasite problem and then discuss an alternative course of action. Bark questions to: Canine Companion, 11652 North - 825 West, Huntington, IN 46750 or email

Canine Companion conducts dog training classes in Fort Wayne, Huntington and surrounding communities and behavior consulting nationwide. Along with their combined 30 years experience and endorsement by national organizations, the trainers are all graduates of Purdue University’s DOGS! Program and have earned the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.