Pet Points: Allergies make these bad dog days of summer

This is the time of year when many dogs have allergy-related skin problems. Scratching, feet licking and face rubbing are the classic symptoms that veterinarians see. As people who have allergies know, warm weather and tree pollen get the summer season off to a bad start. 

Pet dermatology and allergy were the subject of two continuing education programs I attended in the past month, and I wanted to share some interesting facts with readers. Dogs are now becoming more genetically programmed for allergies. West Highland white terriers, Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, cocker spaniels and Shar Peis are some breeds known to be troubled by allergies, but even mixed breeds can have problems. We often see allergic dogs younger than 3 years old, and females are more commonly affected than males.

Dogs can be sensitized to allergy following percutaneous absorption through the skin or inhalation of allergens. Frequent bathing or rinsing can lessen the effects of allergens like pollen. Often we rely on a good history to evaluate dogs. Along with symptoms like licking and scratching, secondary problems such as skin or ear infections can increase a pet’s suffering. Occasionally, food allergy has to be considered when symptoms appear non-seasonal.

Control of allergies can include antihistamines and corticosteroids like prednisone. New medications such as Atopica are providing relief to many patients without the side effects of steroids. One of the big issues with corticosteroids is the possibility of encouraging antibiotic-resistant skin bacteria, which is very difficult to treat. Dogs will often have a a skin infection called a staph pyoderma. Resistant skin infections have become more common from using the wrong antibiotic, treatment for too short of a period of time or excessive amounts of corticosteroid.There have even been occasional cases of dog to human or human to dog transmissions of skin infections resistant to common antibiotics. Tragic results can occur if humans without a normal immune system are exposed to resistant bacteria from a pet. 

Cultures of skin infections add to the expense of treatment but help in the proper selection of an appropriate drug treatment. Dogs often require three weeks or more of antibiotic therapy for a typical skin infection and longer for a deeper or more severe  infection. Owners have to be dedicated in treating pets with both topical and oral medications and following directions carefully. Repeated veterinary visits may be necessary during prolonged treatments.

Sometimes vets have to resort to intradermal skin and blood testing to identify and treat the allergy. Testing is a complex task, as pets must be taken off medications that help with symptoms prior to evaluation. Fall may be the best time to do this. The new term for allergy injections as treatment is Allergen Specific Immunotherapy. With a cooperative patient and a dedicated owner, these injections can help. Oral hyposensitization is another trend, but it might not be as good as injections.

Ear infections can also be problematic. Cultures or slide cytology can reveal pseudomonas infections that are very difficult to treat. Deep ear flushing under anesthesia along with topical treatment can help.

Pet owners can help their pets by seeking prompt treatment for animals showing symptoms of allergy. Make written notes of symptoms’ severity and frequency. For severe cases, consultation with a board-certified veterinary dermatologist might be necessary.

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.