What are Dander Allergies?
Dogs can have allergies just like people do. Allergies to beef, chicken, fish, grains, and corn in food are common, as are sensitivities to pollen, grass, weeds, fleas, and dust mites. In fact, canines can be allergic to each other and to us. Being allergic to people does not actually mean they are allergic to you,. they are allergic to dander, which is the same thing that causes our allergies to dogs. While it is not as common as other inhalant allergies, experts suspect dander allergy is more common than what is reported because most people and veterinarians just think the itching and rash are from a skin condition, like chronic dry skin or dermatitis. Since skin is the largest organ in the body, it is the first to show signs that something is wrong with your dog. With any allergy, one of the first signs you will notice is scratching anywhere on the body, but it will probably be accompanied by sneezing, coughing, and even wheezing. Luckily, it is rare for dander allergies to result in anaphylaxis, so it is only dangerous if the itching causes a secondary infection from scratching.
Although it is common for people to be allergic to dogs, many people do not realize that their pet can be allergic to them or to fellow animal housemates as well. In fact, he may be allergic to you, because an allergy to dander means that your dog is allergic to anyone (humans, dogs, cats, etc.) who sheds dander, which is everyone. The dander on our skin and the skin of other animals is similar to the dander on a dog’s skin that causes the allergic reaction in people. Dander is the flakes of skin that our bodies shed constantly, which can cause an allergic reaction that most people mistake for a skin condition. Since the usual symptoms of allergy to human or animal dander are itchy skin, hives, redness, and swelling, you may think your dog just has dry skin or dermatitis.
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Symptoms of Dander Allergies in Dogs
Symptoms of dander allergy may vary, but the most often reported are:
- Bald spots from scratching
- Excessive licking
- Moist or crusty skin
- Runny nose
- Scratching (anus, ears, eyes, groin, muzzle, paws, underarms)
- Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
- Watery eyes
All dogs of any species, gender, and age can develop an allergy to dander, but it most often is seen in:
- Dogs over six months of age
- Bulldogs (American, French Bulldog, Leavitt Bulldog, Old English)
- German Shepherds
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Retrievers (American Water, Chesapeake Bay, Curly Coated, Flat-Coated, Golden, Labrador)
- Setters (English, Gordon Setter, Irish)
- Terriers (Airedale, American Staffordshire, Australian, Bedlington, Border, Bull, Cairn, Fox, Lakeland, Norfolk, Rat, Russell, Scottish, West Highland, White Wheaten)
Causes of Dander Allergies in Dogs
Dander allergies in dogs are caused by microscopic flakes of dead skin and hair from people and animals. Any animal with hair, fur, or even feathers can cause dander allergies. These tiny particles cannot be seen, but they float through the air and get inhaled through the mouth and nose into your dog’s lungs.
Diagnosis of Dander Allergies in Dogs
The cause of your dog’s itchiness may never be definitively diagnosed if your veterinarian is not familiar with dander allergies in dogs. Many times, the scratching is just considered chronic dermatitis and the veterinarian prescribes a medicine and sends you home. Even with a physical examination, the veterinarian may not suspect an allergy to dander because skin afflictions are so common. However, if your dog is fine outdoors, but starts scratching when indoors, pet or people dander may be the problem. It can also be accompanied by sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, and runny nose, which are not related to chronic dermatitis so be sure to mention these to your veterinarian.
Serum Allergy Test
If you suspect your dog has a human or animal dander allergy, you may have to ask your veterinarian to do a serum allergy test to find out for sure. This is done with a small blood sample and then is tested under a microscope for signs of allergic response. If the test is positive, your veterinarian will send you to a dog dermatologist to do an intradermal allergy test.
Intradermal Allergy Testing
This test is done by the dermatologist and costs a bit more than other tests, but it is considered to be the most accurate test for allergens. In this procedure, your dog will be sedated and they will shave the area to be tested (usually the abdomen or side). The dermatologist will use a small needle to inject your dog with different allergens (usually about 50 of them) and wait to see which ones become inflamed and red. This usually only take a few minutes.
Treatment of Dander Allergies in Dogs
The best treatments for any allergy in dogs are corticosteroids, antihistamines, and a topical ointment, such as a cortisone cream or gel. In addition, a special shampoo may be prescribed to decrease the itching and an antibiotic to prevent infection.
These shots are similar to what people refer to as allergy shots for humans, and they are basically the same thing. The veterinarian will show you how to give your dog a shot with a small amount of allergen (human or animal dander) daily, adding a bit more each day to desensitize your dog to dander gradually. The main drawback to this is that it can sometimes take several months of shots before your dog is fully desensitized. In rare cases, it may never work. Also, the immunotherapy shots can cause a serious reaction called anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening emergency. Your veterinarian can provide you with an epinephrine pen (epi-pen) to inject your dog with epinephrine in case this complication happens.
Treating the Skin
Your dog’s skin is the best way to determine allergies, so it is important to get the skin back to normal as soon as possible. A hypoallergenic shampoo and cortisone cream for the rash and inflammation will help relieve the itching within a few days.
Recovery of Dander Allergies in Dogs
Usually, your dog will show improvement within the first six months, but it can take up to 12 months in some dogs. Immunotherapy or skin creams do not cure the allergies, but it does make your dog more comfortable and can prevent infection from scratching. No matter which treatment works for your dog, you have to be sure to continue the treatment for the rest of your dog’s life. If there are any questions or concerns, give your veterinarian a call right away.