Rise in Canine Allergies: Understanding the Itch

by Lisa

Veterinary clinics witness a steady stream of discomforted dogs, each afflicted by the torment of environmental allergies. Elizabeth Falk, a former veterinary dermatologist at Cornell University Veterinary Specialists, recounts the scenes in her office where dogs with itchy feet, red ears, or skin rashes seek relief. The demand for assistance is so overwhelming that Falk is preparing to open her own pet dermatology practice to address the pressing need.

The prevalence of atopic dermatitis, or environmental allergies, among dogs is on the rise, according to data from Banner Pet Hospital. Over the past decade, there has been a notable 30% increase in reported cases. Similarly, a 2021 report from a teaching hospital in Brazil found that a quarter of the dogs examined suffered from allergies. While there is no consistent tracking of dog allergies, professionals in the field observe a surge anecdotally. Erin Tate, vice president of clinical development at CityVet in Dallas, emphasizes the prominence of allergic skin disease, noting a significant escalation in recent years.


Environmental allergies often manifest when dogs are between 6 months and 3 years old, although there are exceptions. Matthew McCarthy, founder of Juniper Valley Animal Hospital, explains that allergies result from skin barrier dysfunction, wherein the outer layer becomes compromised due to inflammation. Contrary to previous beliefs, airborne allergens are absorbed through the skin, triggering symptoms such as relentless itching, excessive licking, or chewing. Climate change exacerbates the situation, prolonging allergy seasons due to erratic temperature shifts and extended periods of pollen exposure.


Genetics play a pivotal role in predisposing certain breeds to atopic dermatitis. Falk identifies breeds like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, French Bulldogs, and others as particularly susceptible. Symptoms vary among breeds, with German Shepherds exhibiting crusts around their lips and Labs developing bumps between their toes.


Furthermore, environmental factors contribute to the prevalence of allergies. Dogs raised in urban settings, where outdoor exposure is limited, are more prone to allergic reactions compared to their rural counterparts. Early exposure to microorganisms and regular outdoor activity can mitigate the risk of developing allergies. However, modern lifestyle trends, such as increased hygiene and indoor confinement, have reduced dogs’ exposure to beneficial microorganisms.


Despite the challenges posed by rising allergy rates, advancements in treatment offer hope. Immunotherapy, in the form of customized injections, has shown promising results in desensitizing dogs to allergens. Additionally, medications like Apoquel and Cytopoint provide relief from itching and inflammation, albeit at a cost. However, early intervention and proactive management can significantly improve the quality of life for allergic dogs.

While prevention strategies are limited, prospective dog owners can inquire about allergic conditions in a puppy’s pedigree when purchasing from a breeder. Regular bathing and hygiene practices can also help mitigate allergen exposure for dogs. Above all, prompt veterinary intervention is crucial at the first signs of allergic symptoms, ensuring timely diagnosis and effective treatment.

In the battle against canine allergies, vigilance and proactive care are key to providing relief and improving the well-being of our four-legged companions.


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