Dog skin disorders fall into two categories: acquired and hereditary. Many things in the environment can cause skin problems including internal and external parasites, food, pollen, and chemical substances. The most common signs of skin disorders are scratching, itching, inflammation, yeast infections, and discharges. Skin disorders can be prevented and treated. Auto-immune skin conditions are sometimes referred to as being allergic to yourself. The most devastating auto-immune disease is lupus, which affects dogs and people. Lupus can affect kidneys, bones, blood, and skin and may be fatal to both dogs and people. It is usually treated with cortisone, prednisolone, but these drugs can have harmful side effects.
Hereditary skin disorders include acrodermatitis, cutaneous asthenia, sebaceous adenitis, cyclic hematopoiesis, dermatomyositis, IgA deficiency, color dilution alopecia and nodular dermatofibrosis. Some of these disorders are limited to one or two breeds, while others affect a large number of breeds. All inherited diseases must be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian specialist.
Acquired Skin Disorders
Allergic reactions occur when the immune system overreacts or responds inappropriately to a substance. Often there is no sign of allergy the first time a dog is exposed, but after that first exposure, the immune system builds up a reserve of antibodies to react to that particular allergen. The next time the dog encounters the same allergen, the immune system reacts strongly. Predisposition to skin allergies is inherited, and many breeds, such as terriers, the Dalmatian, Golden Retriever, schnauzers, and poodles are more prone to allergies.
Many things in the environment can cause allergies, and combinations of allergens can result in an additive effect. For example, a dog reacting to a food allergy plus a dust mite allergy plus a ragweed allergy will have more severe symptoms than a dog allergic to only one substance. Common signs of a skin disorder may include smelly yeast infections in the ears, scratching, and inflammation of the skin.
Sources of Skin Allergies
Saliva and other secretions from mites and fleas can cause itchy hypersensitivity reactions. The surrounding skin releases histamine and other substances that cause itching and inflammation. Parasites, both internal and external, can contribute to development of new allergies. As the immune system creates antibodies to the parasites, such as fleas, mites, intestinal worms and heartworms, it may also develop sensitivities to other otherwise harmless environmental substances. Keeping dogs free from parasites, especially while they are puppies, is an essential step in preventing allergies.
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Dogs are allergic to many foods that are best-sellers and highly recommended by breeders and veterinarians. Changing the brand of food may not eliminate the problem, if the element to which the dog is allergic is contained in the new brand. Dogs react to food allergies by itching, scratching, and biting. Although it is quite difficult to recognize a particular source of food allergies, you can handle this problem yourself. Put your dog on a diet that consists only of ingredients that your dog has never eaten before. It can be rabbit meat or turkey. Keep your dog on this diet with no additives for one month. If the symptoms of food allergy disappear, then your dog has a food allergy. To make sure you know what ingredient caused the food allergy, expand your dog diet by adding one ingredient at a time. Let your dog stay on that modified diet with one added ingredient for a month before you add another ingredient.
Diagnosis & Treatment
An itchy dog can be tested for allergies through blood tests. High amounts of IgE antibody usually indicate an overreaction to an allergen. Also, veterinarians can perform skin tests, similar to those performed on people, by exposing small areas of skin to different allergens and observing how the skin reacts to each allergen. Avoid some specific allergens; keep a dog away from down pillows if it is allergic to feathers. Bathe your dog weekly to prevent itchiness. Wash allergens away before they get a chance to penetrate the skin. If recommended, add fatty acid supplements to your dog diet. Many drug treatments, such as antihistamines, anti-inflammatory corticosteroids, and immunosuppressive drugs, can reduce the symptoms, but these drugs generally come with side effects. Another option is immunotherapy, which involves desensitization to the allergen by a series of allergy shots.