Allergies are coming! Here’s some advice from Dr. St. Onge

The changing of the seasons usually brings with it allergies for both humans and their dogs. I believe that knowledge is power, and I wanted to help concerned pet owners by gathering information from a reputable veterinarian. When we understand what is happening and what is causing the symptoms, we can better understand how to provide our dog’s with an effective solution. The following is an interview I conducted back in August of 2014 with Dr. St. Onge, who operates the Buckhaven Animal Hospital in Atlanta, GA. I hope you find the information helpful as we come into the Spring, which for some pets means itching and scratching time 🙂

Interview with Dr. Mark R. St. Onge @ Buckhaven Animal Hospital:

Fall & Spring Skin Issues:
Q: What are some common skin issues that you see during the Fall season?

A: The term is “Atopy”. Generally speaking, atopy is allergic symptoms and/or allergies associated with the skin. Allergies are most commonly seen in canine skin rather than their respiratory system. You will rarely see a dog with a runny nose or sneezing. Allergic symptoms are usually seen in the skin – mostly in areas like the feet, face or armpits. The most common culprit is flea saliva that the skin will develop an allergic reaction to.

Q: Does the changing of the seasons have any affect on the skin and coat?

A: Yes. Spring and Fall are both the most common times for allergies in dogs. Many factors come into play, but dogs just like humans tend to suffer from allergies during the Spring and Fall. It is different for each individual dog. Some may have symptoms during the Spring and not the Fall or vice-versa, and some may flare up during both seasons. We must be careful to take care of these symptoms as they show up because they can start off as allergy, but can turn into more serious infections if left unchecked.

Q: What are some steps that owners can take to prevent and/or treat these symptoms?

A: The quality of the coat has a lot to do with feeding the dog good food. A good, proper diet is a key factor in a dog’s beautiful coat. However, the proper diet is highly individualized. Even between litter mates one specific diet will work great with one, but not so well with another. It is best to work with a vet on the best diet with the proper nutrition for your pet. If the owner notices hair loss, it usually is a hormone issue that should be looked at by a vet. A vet can also conduct tests such as an IDST (most common) or a RAST test (blood sample). Once a diagnosis is made and treatment is started, some issues can take a year and a half to two years to see improvement.

Q: Are certain breeds more prone to have allergies and skin issues?

A: In theory, most purebreds are more prone to skin issues along with a number of other health issues. The idea is that the smaller the gene pool, with overbreeding due to heightened demand, the more prone the breed is to develop genetic dispositions towards certain health issues. In the 70’s it was the Cocker Spaniels that were in high demand, and in the 80’s it was the Golden Retrievers. Now it’s the Doodles, they’re all over the place and some of the more selective breeders don’t introduce enough new genes into their breeds in order to keep a consistent look. The term is “Hybrid Vigor” that means that mixed genetics are better. So the theory is that mixed breeds and breeds that have more variety in their genetics are usually healthier and less prone to health issues. But keep in mind that this is a theory.

Q: Are there any supplements or vitamins that can help with skin and coat health?

A: A truly hypo-allergenic diet will help with most skin issues. However, it must be truly hypo-allergenic, meaning it is made with hydrolyzed proteins. Hydrolyzed proteins are still proteins, but what a truly hypo-allergenic diet does is it breaks down the proteins into building blocks. Therefore the body will still use it as protein, but it is a neutral protein that will not cause any negative effects of an animal protein that does not match well with the dog. Like we covered earlier, diet is highly individualized and what works for one dog may not work with another. Truly hypo-allergenic food is only available through your vet so it will be a cooperative effort with your vet.

Q: What should groomers be aware of, and how can dog groomers help?

A: The best advice is to only use products made specifically for dogs. Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo is not the correct pH for a dog’s skin and can cause reactions. Allergroom is a very mild and truly hypoallergenic shampoo that works very well during the allergy seasons. Colognes and perfumes are also not a good idea to use because of the reactions they can cause. Ears are also a very important part of the groom that should never be overlooked. Never allow a dog to walk out of the grooming salon without plucking the hairs out of the ear canals and cleaning them with a good ear cleaner made for dogs. Report any kind of a mass under the skin, especially in older dogs. The earlier these are detected, the easier it is to treat them.

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