What are Oat Allergies?
Allergies to the pollen of the Avena genus of plants are infrequent although contact and food allergies are slightly more common. If these allergies do develop, it can be quite distressing to your pet. Dogs that acquire allergies develop itchy and inflamed skin, respiratory disorders, and chronic skin and ear infections. Colloidal oatmeal, oatmeal that has been ground into a fine powder, is known for its anti-inflammatory effects on the skin, and is often used to treat allergic reactions. This treatment can have a stimulating effect on the immune system of dogs that are allergic to the protein in the oats and worsen the problem rather than alleviating it.
Oatmeal is often used in baths to alleviate the symptoms of allergic reactions, but it is possible to develop either a food or environmental allergy to plants in the oat (Avena) family or its pollen.
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Symptoms of Oat Allergies in Dogs
Allergic canines may have many of the same respiratory and digestive symptoms that you see in humans, but the skin reactions are generally more visible. Dogs who develop symptoms of seasonal or environmental allergies typically start showing symptoms when they are between one and three years old, and food allergies are more likely to develop in dogs that are over the age three.
- Asthma symptoms
- Chewing on affected areas
- Ear infections
- Hair loss
- Nasal congestion
- Obsessive licking
- Red and itchy eyes
- Shortness of breath
- Thickened skin
- Ulceration of the skin
There are several varieties of plant in the Avena family, collectively known as oats. Types of oats that may have an effect on your pet’s allergies can be caused by either oats cultivated by humans or oat grasses that are growing wild. These could include:
- Black Oat (Avena strigosa) – This type of oat grass is both cultivated in marginal environments, and is found as a weed among common oats. It is used as a fodder crop rather than a grain crop
- Common Oat (Avena sativa) – This is the most widely cultivated of the oats and is usually what is found in most commercial preparations of oatmeal
- Red Oat (Avena Byzantina) – This type of oat can also be used in the same way as common oat, and the straw from the plant is often used to make fiber, mulch, thatching, and paper
- Slender Oat (Avena barbata) – This variety of oat grass has particularly weak stems and is not cultivated as a grain crop, but has become widely distributed throughout the world
- Wild Oat (Avena fatua) – This wild oat exhibits similar characteristics as its cousin, the common oat, but it has less value as a grain stock and is more vigorous, making it a bothersome weed in many parts of North America
Causes of Oat Allergies in Dogs
Canine allergies are an overly aggressive response of the dog’s immune system to an amino acid that it sees as an invader. The specialized immune cells the body uses to protect the body from invaders are called mast cells, and their job is to release histamine when the immune system is triggered by specific proteins. Histamine has an inflammatory effect on the tissues it comes into contact with, which initiates the itchy and inflamed skin conditions that are characteristic of most allergic reactions in dogs. When the cells in the sinuses and eyes are affected by an irritant, such as the pollen from oat grasses, the symptoms of a runny nose and sneezing are activated. Although seasonal allergies to the pollen released by oat grasses are fairly uncommon, contact or dietary allergies are more probable.
Diagnosis of Oat Allergies in Dogs
The skin’s reaction to allergens is consistent regardless of the mode of introduction. The swelling and bumps that are characteristic of allergic reactions will usually prompt your veterinarian to get a skin scraping to examine microscopically. This process is known as cutaneous cytology and is used to identify biological organisms that may cause similar symptoms such as mites, fungi, or bacterial infections. Conventional tests are often initiated at this time as well, to rule out disorders like chronic bacterial illnesses, hypothyroidism, or even imbalances in the overall blood chemistry. The timing of the symptoms combined with the results of these tests may give an initial indication of either seasonal allergies, or a food or contact allergy.
An intradermal skin test, also known as a patch test, will often be done to pinpoint the individual contact or environmental allergen. In this test, tiny amounts of the suspected antigens are injected under the skin to induce a localized reaction for identification. Blood may be drawn to check the response of the allergens directly to the blood, but with environmental or seasonal allergies this technique is usually only employed if the patch test is unable to be administered, due to skin damage or other unusual circumstances. Definitive diagnosis of food allergy is typically determined by the implementation of an elimination diet rather than either blood or patch tests.
Treatment of Oat Allergies in Dogs
Antihistamines are only effective for twenty to thirty percent of our canine companions initially, and their effectiveness often fades as canines develop a tolerance to them. Hydrocortisone shampoos and salves are often applied to relieve swelling and irritation on the skin, but caution should be employed as ingestion of hydrocortisone can cause gastric distress. Colloidal oatmeal is a natural alternative that can be found in many commercial products as well as easily made at home. The grinding of the grain allows the anti-inflammatory compounds in the plant to add moisture and restore softness to swollen or itchy skin when added to a tepid bath.
Dry, itchy skin, whether caused by allergies, chicken pox, or just dry skin often has a higher pH level, and the compounds found in oatmeal are known to provide relief by normalizing the pH levels of the skin. If your pet happens to be allergic to the amino acids that are present in the oat plant itself, oatmeal baths will worsen the skin condition rather than soothe it. If this occurs, discontinue uses of the oatmeal in the bath and inform your dog’s veterinarian or dermatologist.
Recovery of Oat Allergies in Dogs
Oatmeal baths are an excellent treatment for dry, itchy skin of all sorts. Because of the moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties of oatmeal, it is often added to commercial shampoos and conditioners for animals as well as for people, but it doesn’t require any special additives to bring out oatmeal’s healing properties. In order to give your dog an oatmeal bath without the special shampoos, start by grinding the oatmeal down to a fine powder.
Fill your dog’s tub with tepid water to chest height for your dog and add about half a cup of the ground oats. Once the oats are stirred in, and the dog placed in the bathwater, you can pour the oatmeal water over their back, head, and stomach, taking care to avoid the eyes. Continue this for 10- 15 minutes. You can rinse the colloidal oatmeal off at this point or leave it on to continue moisturizing the skin, then pat your dog’s skin dry rather than rub with the towel, to avoid overdrying or further irritation to the skin.