This is from the 2003 AVMA Convention:
dermatitis (itchy, inflamed skin caused by an abnormal immune system response to certain inhaled substances such
as dust, molds, etc.) is a very common condition in dogs seen by veterinarians. Substances which trigger an allergic reaction
are called allergens.
Pollens are important allergens in dogs. The biggest culprits are pollens that are light and easily
airborne, such as those from weeds, grasses, or trees. In contrast, many flowering plants (for example roses) have heavy,
sticky pollen that is not easily airborne, and does not cause much of a problem as an allergen. Dust mites are another significant
allergen in dogs, and molds contribute to allergies as well.
Substances which do NOT appear to be common allergens in
dogs include feathers, wool, tobacco, furniture stuffing, lawn fertilizer, synthetic rug fibers, most ornamental plants, and
most house plants.
Diagnosing the allergy source
There are several other causes for itchy, inflamed skin besides
inhalant allergies. These include:
Skin mites (Scabies, Cheyletiella)
Hormonal problems - Hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) or Cushing's disease could be
an underlying cause of your dog's scratching.
Stress - Dogs may constantly lick their paws due to stress. The
stress may be due to a change such as a move, a new family member or a different daily routine.
In order to treat
your dog appropriately, your veterinarian will want to rule out these other causes before treating your dog for atopic dermatitis.
May perform skin scrapings to help rule out skin mites
May perform skin cytology to find bacteria
Recommend flea control if fleas are seen or suspected
Recommend a hypoallergenic diet trial
be important for you to give your veterinarian a good history regarding your dog's itchy skin:
When did the problem
Has it gotten worse since then, or is it staying the same?
Is it seasonal or year-round?
Are just a
few areas itchy, or is it the whole body?
Are your dog's ears also itchy and inflamed?
Are you noticing an odor
to your dog's skin or ears?
Treatment methods for allergies
If other causes have been ruled out and your veterinarian
has diagnosed your dog with atopic dermatitis, several things may be tried to make your dog more comfortable. Although avoiding
all allergens is impossible and impractical, making a few changes may help somewhat. Some recommended changes include:
who have pollen allergies can be kept indoors more, especially in the early morning and at dusk, when most plants pollinate.
pets with dust mite allergies, it may help to wash bedding frequently in hot water, use special covers for pillows or mattresses,
and use carpet products that kill dust mites.
Because pets with inhalant allergies may also have food allergies, it
is a good idea to try a hypoallergenic diet trial for at least 6-8 weeks to see if additional improvement results.
and fatty acids may help to reduce the itching in some pets.
Corticosteroids (such as prednisone, prednisolone, etc.)
can be very effective at helping to decrease itching, but may have side effects especially if used at high doses or for long
periods of time. There is a new low-concentration corticosteroid (triamcinolone) spray (GENESIS by Virbac) which may be used
for up to a month without the side effects of systemic corticosteroids.
Allergy testing whether intradermal (skin) testing
or serum assay (blood) testing is not used to determine whether or not an animal has allergies. Instead, it is used for animals
with a specific clinical diagnosis of allergy to determine which specific substances the animal is allergic to. Allergy testing
is usually used for animals that are going to have allergen immunotherapy. This is a treatment for atopic dermatitis that
involves injecting extracts of allergens the pet is sensitive to, in gradually increasing amounts, to lessen or reverse the
reaction to those allergens. Allergy testing is used to determine which allergens should be included in the extract. Response
to allergen immunotherapy can be seen as soon as 1 month, but usually takes 3-6 months. It can take up to 1 year to see maximum
improvement. Response to immunotherapy is 'good to excellent' (at least 50% improvement) in approximately 60-70% of patients.
Just as with humans, allergies can be a serious concern for your pet. In a recent survey by the AVMA (American Veterinary
Medical Association), skin allergies were the number one reason why pet owners brought their dogs to their veterinarian, and
the number four reason why they brought their cats. Parasites, certain medical conditions, and changes in diet are just a
few of the ways allergies can develop. The most common symptoms include scratching, paw-licking, and chronic ear infections.
Flea allergies are a common allergy in dogs. If a dog suffers from flea allergies
the it is important that it becomes completely flea free.
Food allergies are another common allergy.
Some ingredients that commonly cause an allergic reactions include: corn, wheat, soy, beef, chicken, pork, preservatives or
dyes. Diagnosing a food allergy involves a strict diet change for several weeks and observation as the old diet is reintroduced.
dermatitis is an inherited tendency to be more sensitivity to certain environmental substances such as pollen, dust
mites and mold spores.
To determine what the dog is allergic too, skin tests are
often done. Blood testing can be done as well but it lacks the accuracy skin tests have.
Skin tests are performed by
clipping the hair from a region on the pet's body and making allergen injections into the skin. The skin will react within
several minutes of the injection. An allergic reaction looks like a small, red bump and determines sensitivity to an injected
Airborne allergies can affect pets just as they do humans. Dander, pollen, grasses, trees,
dust mites, and fabrics can all cause problems. This kind of allergy often begins early in a pet's life, begins as a seasonal
discomfort, and gradually extends until it can be a year-round problem. It can often be treated with reducing your pet's
exposure to the allergen and medication, but you should be sure to discuss your options and possible side effects with your
area of skin that is angry pink to red, warm to hot, moist to wet, irritated to bloody, and possibly seeping pus can be called
a "hot spot." It is important to realize, however, that the term "hot spot" is a general description and
not a specific diagnosis. Simply put, a hot spot is a patch of your dog's skin that is bothering her so much that she can't
leave it alone. Because of this overwhelming discomfort, she has rubbed, scratched, and licked it into the condition you see
What to Look For
Gently separate your dog's hair around the hot spot to get a good
look at it. Look for open skin and raw, bloody patches of flesh. Then slowly and carefully look over your dog's skin for other
hot spots. It's helpful to speak softly to your dog and gently rub her with one hand while checking her skin for hot spots
with the other hand.
What to Do
No doubt, you feel badly for your dog and want to figure out
what caused this mess. Although it is wonderful to be able to get to the bottom of such a condition and to diagnose the inciting
cause, it is not always possible, nor is it all that critical compared to treating the lesion.
The treatment usually
involves three separate parts. First, you'll shave the hot spot and the surrounding area to get a better look at the full
extent of the problem and to make ongoing treatment easier.
Second, you'll clean and medicate the entire area. And third,
you'll come up with a therapy plan to control infection, reduce itchiness, and protect the area from further trauma.
gag; don't sweat; as long as the wound is not an open one, revealing the muscle or fat beneath, you should be able to treat
it yourself. Grab the following supplies and get to work:
Electric hair clippers, if you have them
you are comfortable using
Soft, clean cotton cloths or towels, or a generous supply of paper toweling
of hydrogen peroxide and warm (not hot) water
A commercially available soothing, anti-itch spray, preferably alcohol-free
Bacitracin, Polysporin, or another broad spectrum antibiotic ointment
Size-appropriate non-adherent wound dressing
Cotton gauze on a roll
Bitter apple or other awful-tasting spray
Plastic Elizabethan collar
You'll probably need a helper to hold your dog while you do this, especially if the wound you're treating is bothering her.
the clippers and scissors, try to trim away as much hair as possible from the wound, extending an inch beyond the wound in
every direction. (If the hair over the wound is caked with discharge, try the next step first, and then come back to the trimming.)
Soak your cloth or towel with the hydrogen peroxide and water mixture and repeatedly blot the entire wound, rinsing the
cloth off frequently. You'll soon find that the wound doesn't look nearly as awful as it did earlier. Once the area seems
to be clear of dirt, debris, and dried blood, put away the cloth.
Now give the entire area a few good squirts of anti-itch
spray, taking care to go all the way to the edges of the trimmed hair.
Apply a thin film of antibiotic ointment to one
side of the non-adherent dressing and press it directly to the wound.
If the hot spot is on an extremity, simply wrap
the gauze around the limb 2-3 times and then use adhesive tape to encircle the ends of the gauze. If the site is on an area
such as the shoulder or hip, it is sometimes possible to wrap gauze in a figure 8 around the front or rear limbs. If the spot
is on your dog's belly, back, or chest, you may need to get enough gauze and tape to wrap entirely around her abdomen or thorax.
Almost done; now apply the bitter apple or equivalent spray to the bandage to prevent licking or chewing. (The addition
of an Elizabethan collar will improve your chances of success.) If you can keep the dressing on for 3-5 days, you'll be surprised
at how much improvement will take place!
When to Get the Vet
Scrutinize the area daily for signs
of increased swelling, heat, or sensitivity. If you notice any of these signs or if your dog develops a fever, she'll probably
need systemic antibiotics and should see your veterinarian.
You should also call your vet without delay if your dog's
hot spot has progressed far beyond hair loss and red irritated skin and now appears as fur sticky with accumulated discharge,
covering raw to bloody, excoriated patches of flesh.