Allergies to a variety of substances in the environment such as weed, grass and tree pollen along with dust mites and mold spores will cause a skin condition — in genetically predisposed dogs — called atopy.

Susceptible breeds include Dalmations, Golden Retrievers, West Highland White Terriers, Shar Peis, Labrador Retrievers, Cairn Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, Boxers and Pugs.

Atopy usually develops in younger dogs aged one to three. The disease begins with seasonal itching and the skin looks normal. In addition to itching, some dogs may rub their face, sneeze, have a runny nose, watery eyes and lick their paws.

If the disease gets worse, dogs may develop deep scratches on the skin, experience hair loss, scabs and even bacterial skin infections. Ear infections are common.

Unfortunately, atopy may develop into an all-year-long struggle if the dog is allergic to multiple substances in the environment, whether indoors or out.

DIAGNOSING AND TREATING ATOPY

Environmental allergens are usually diagnosed through skin and blood testing, the location of any skin lesions and by identifying the seasonal pattern of occurrence.

The most effective treatment for dogs with atopy is eliminating allergens in your dog’s environment, both indoors and out. Other suggestions include:

  • Antihistamines to control itching and scratching.
  • Corticosteroids to control itching. Because these drugs have serious side effects, they are best used in low doses and for a short period of time.
  • Feeding a high-quality pet food and adding immune boosting and anti-inflammatory nutritional supplements to the diet.
  • Special shampoos to sooth the skin.
  • Non-toxic flea treatment if allergic to fleas.
  • Vaccinate only when necessary.
  • Eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke, dust mites, mold spores, lawn pesticides and herbicides.
  • Minimize house plants.
  • Use air-conditioning and/or and an air filter system in your home.