Yes, it's time for another "Ask The Dog Trainer" question. The question we have today is one that I hear quite often, and it's more common than many might think, so here we go:
I have a Boston Terrier, Max, who is quite sweet. Recently, though, he's been itching and scratching a lot, and he's developed some irritation in some places (particularly his belly). My friend mentioned he could have allergies, but he's never shown signs of this before. Is it possible for dogs to develop / have allergies?
Well, this is an easy one. In a short answer: Yes. Like humans, it is quite possible for a dog to develop allergies over time, and his/her allergies can be to anything from food to pollen. And the symptoms can range from mild irritation and itchy skin to more severe ear infections and hives. The real question here, though, is not whether or not a dog can develop allergies, but rather what can we do about them?
So the first thing I ask my clients when dealing with a dog showing signs of allergies is, "When are the symptoms the worst?" About 90% of the time the response is that the dog is itching in the spring and summer and the feet are particularly itchy at this time too. Generally, when this is the case keeping your dog clean and free of dust can help. Also, making sure your dog's bedding is clean will help to relieve symptoms as well. For severe scratching, try bathing your dog in a mild shampoo with cool water.
So, what if the symptoms are constant? What if your dog is always itching and always suffering from ear infections? What if your dog is developing rashes or breaking out in hives? What then?
Well, generally I'd say this is probably a food allergy. So, the first thing to do would be to cut out some of the most common allergens: wheat, corn, soy, and dairy. Finding foods without these ingredients is actually easier than you thin (although you probably won't find them in your local supermarket). If that doesn't work, focus on the protein. The two most common sources of allergies in protein are chicken and beef. I recommend switching to a fish-based diet as the added Omega-3s can sometimes help, but I've known people to switch to a completely unusual diet such as Kangaroo.
For some, though, this still is not enough. At that point, I might suggest making your dog's food. This eliminates any preservatives or other possible allergens from the diet. You know EXACTLY what your dog is eating. Of course, then it's important to not give your dog any other types of food either.
And, of course, there are dogs who are allergic to all of the above. The require routine bathing, a strict diet, and tender, loving care.
In addition to all of the above treatments, you may even want to consult your vet about medication. Sometimes a simple Benadryl can help to relieve symptoms, but other times your vet may prescribe an allergy med to help during the bad times.
If your dog is an allergy sufferer, take heart. They may require a little more work, but they're worth it. They're definitely worth it.