Summer Skin Problems

We are in the middle of most Torontonians’ favourite season: summer. It’s the best time of the year to spend the day outside by the pool, at the cottage by the lake, in the park, or on the beach. Naturally, we love to share this outdoor time with our pets. After all, they love this weather too. Unfortunately some dogs suffer from allergies or sensitive skin, which can turn their summer into a bummer!

Allergies

Dogs, like people, are commonly affected by allergies. While people suffering from allergies more commonly experience coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, and dog_allergies.jpgrunny noses, dogs express allergies most commonly in the form of itchy, inflamed skin. There are two classes of allergies in dogs: food allergies and environmental allergies. The latter is also referred to as atopy and is the more common of the two forms.

Dogs that have environmental allergies will often have skin problems that have a seasonal pattern. They react to certain allergens in the air, such as pollens, that are only present during the warmer months.

Signs of environmental allergies in dogs can include dry, red, itchy skin and paws, ear infections, and “hot spots”. The inflamed skin will often affect only parts of the skin, such as the paws, groin area, or hind end. When dogs scratch and chew their itchy skin, it becomes moist and damagehotspot_on_dog.jpgd, predisposing it to secondary infections.

The infections make the problem worse and can begin a cycle of intensifying skin problems. The best example of this is a hot spot (see picture), which is a small patch of extremely itchy, infected skin. It may appear as an area of matted, wet hair, sometimes with a yellow or white discharge. As dogs scratch at hot spots, these lesions can grow quickly and require treatment to prevent this.

Treatment

It is most important when treating itchy, uncomfortable dogs to control the inflammation so that the scratching is brought under control, and the patient is more comfortable. We use anti-inflammatories for this, which may be in the form of an injection or an oral medication. If there are secondary infections, they may also be treated with an oral or injectable antibiotic.

Topical treatments are often additionally used for localized issues, like hot spots or ear infections. Dogs must often be prevented from self trauma by wearing an “e collar” or cone to prevent them from chewing at their skin. Some cases will need medicated baths or ear cleaning to remove built-up inflammatory debris.

Prevention

Allergies can be a frustrating problem for pets and their owners. While there is no cure for allergic skin problems, there are measures that can be taken to prevent the onset and lessen the severity of allergic reactions. Both oral and topical supplements are available that contain natural anti-inflammatory substances like essential fatty acids. These can be used to help to prevent skin dryness and inflammation and produce a more silky and smooth hair coat.

Allergy testing is also an option. A veterinary dermatologist will inject a series of common allergens into the skin to determine which ones the patient is reactive to. After determining this, the patient can be slowly introduced to the allergen using a series of injections or “allergy shots” that help train the immune system to become less reactive to these allergens.

Keeping your dog well groomed with regular brushing and, if indicated, bathing may also help to relieve the signs of allergic skin disease. Some longer haired dogs benefit from having their coats trimmed in the summer. Ask your veterinarian about grooming and bathing tips for your dog!

Even with preventative measures, breakthrough skin problems can and do occur and treatments described above are occasionally needed to control these issues. Allergies are frustrating for everyone, but regular care and trips to the veterinarian when needed help to make the condition more manageable.

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