With these windy days, many of us are complaining about the annoying effects of allergies. Allergies have also been found in dogs, cats, horses, sheep and cows. It is estimated that 15 percent of dogs in the United States suffer from allergies or hypersensitivities, according to Center Laboratories in Port Washington NY.
"Unlike humans, who experience itchy eyes and noses during allergy season, dogs usually suffer from skin irritations and itching," according to Kevin Shanley, a Philadelphia veterinary dermatologist. "Without treatment, canine allergies can lead to severe skin damage, hair loss and infection. Allergies tend to worsen as the dog ages."
Allergies and hypersensitivities are found in all breeds and mixes but are more common among golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Dalmatians, shar-peis, pugs, Lhasa apsos, bulldogs and terriers.
For dogs, the most common allergens are fleas and inhaled substances such as plant pollen, mold spores, house dust and feathers. Some environmental changes can be made for the sake of the pet. Laundry detergent used to wash bedding might be an allergen. Fabric treatments can cause problems. If your dog is licking his feet, scratching and has recurring ear infections, you can be fairly certain he has allergies.
The trick is to determine the source. Most environmental allergies respond to medication and it is important to consult with your veterinarian.
Many skin disorders in dogs and cats can be traced to food allergies. Pets that suffer from environmental allergies might also have food allergies. The problem is specific ingredients rather than a particular brand of pet food and removing the ingredient which causes the food allergy can go a long way in alleviating annoying symptoms. A study at Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine shows that allergies can be detected and the disorders eliminated when a dog's diet is restricted and monitored over a 10-week period.
The most prevalent food allergens are wheat, soy and corn. Also, chemical preservatives and artificial coloring and flavoring can cause problems. For dogs suffering with seizures, diet changes have been found to reduce or even eliminate the problem.
Determining the problem food requires the feeding of a very restricted diet. Lamb and rice diets became popular when the issue of food allergies surfaced. This diet can be prepared at home but there are commercial products which are excellent and contain a balanced diet for your pet. However, the majority of commercial lamb and rice diets contain wheat. Reading the label on the bag is essential.
To begin the testing for food allergies, go to a pet store and look at labels. You want a food that has only one protein source and one grain. Lamb and rice are the most common combinations and is recommended as it is fairly easy to find. Make sure that the food you are buying is fresh. All food is dated with a "use by" date. This is usually one year from the date of production. Buying a bag that was packaged in the last three months is best.
Do not buy a lamb and rice product that contains any other food ingredients. You do not want wheat, corn or soy. Chicken fat is the normal and best fat source and is normally not a problem. Take a few days to introduce this new food, mixing it with his other food. Then feed this food alone and do not let the dog eat any other treats or food for 10 weeks. Normally you will see an improvement before this, but for best results, continue for the full term. Do not use plastic dishes. Crockery and stainless steel are best. Plastic can cause a reaction.
Untreated allergies can lead to irritability, inflammation, self-trauma and hair loss. It is important that the whole family is committed to this diet change. Most all dog treats contain wheat and many have artificial ingredients that are harmful. Watch what the children drop from the highchair. Remember that nothing but the special dog food should be fed during the test period. If it works, you and your pet will be forever grateful.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by snail-mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.