Canine Allergic Skin Disease
Is your dog scratching excessively? Is he licking his paws a lot? Is she head-shaking more than usual? Is there a different odor about her? If you answered yes to any of these you may live in southeastern Indiana! The high pollen count has been causing significant skin discomfort for our canine friends. All year, but especially the hot months, we see a multitude of dogs with skin diseases. The most common type we see is the dog with allergic skin disease. In the last 30 years we have conquered fleas as a cause of itch, but the allergic dog coming to the vet with skin and ear problems has been increasing.
All dogs with allergic skin disease are not the same. For example, Max came to me for his skin problem and he looked a mess. What had started as a simple irritation had severe consequences over many weeks. He had scratched much of his hair off and had excoriated his skin with his toe nails and teeth. On his abdomen, his neck and under his tail, his skin was thickened and red or black. He looked miserable. In a case like this the vet must bring out the arsenal of therapeutics. Antibiotics are needed for the dermatitis (skin infection), anti-itch medication is required to stop the scratching, and anti-microbial shampoo helps to kill surface germs. This is just a start because treatment in a severe case must be monitored and followed with medication to maintain the good results we hope to achieve. Another example is Lucy. She came in with a mild red itchy rash on her abdomen. She was doing well in every other way. In this patient we only needed to stop the itch and the owner would follow with medicated bathing.
This century there has been a ton of research into allergic skin disease of dogs. They have discovered that this condition is inherited to a degree and has a complicated pathobiology, that is, how it does its evil in the body. They gave it a name, Atopic Dermatitis or Atopy. These dogs have defects in their skin barrier that allow allergens (pollens, molds, etc) to enter the body through the skin. Normal skin does not permit this. This is one reason why bathing is so helpful, to wash allergens off the skin. Another disadvantage allergic dogs have is a dysregulated immune system. Their immune system helps the allergen cause maximum chaos. There is an “itch cycle” that is perpetuated in these dogs causing the severe scratching that seems to the owner to be on an endless loop.
By studying this pathobiology at the cellular level, several new drugs and treatments have been developed to target the itch and stop it without affecting the rest of the body, making treatment safer and more effective. Two of these that we use daily at the vet clinic are Apoquel and Cytopoint. They have made our patient’s lives more comfortable and happier. We still must reach for the anti-microbials and shampoos on occasion, but we have many patients who do very well just taking their anti-itch meds. And regular shampooing with a good grooming shampoo is always helpful.
I mentioned ears at the top of the article. They can be involved in an allergic dog. But we’ll leave that for another time. Ears deserve their own space. Always call your local veterinary clinic for advise with skin problems, and give your dog its flea, tick and heartworm prevention regularly.
Harley Robinson, DVM