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How common are allergies in dogs?
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How common are allergies in dogs?

Dogs
Health & Safety

Virtually any substance that you can think of from organic materials like food products, plants and dander to chemicals and other artificial compounds can be an allergenic trigger for any given dog, and getting to the bottom of an apparent allergy or irritation can be very difficult.

Most dog owners, and certainly veterinary staff, know that allergies are one of the more common chronic and generally low-level health problems that can affect dogs, although the degree to which they impact on any dog’s comfort and day to day life can be very variable.

Additionally, if you are friendly with a lot of other dog owners or meet and chat to a range of other people with dogs when out walking with your own, you will likely know or know of at least one dog that suffers from allergies of some type. But how common are allergies in dogs really, and what are the most common types of allergies in dogs?

In this article, we will look at the four most common types of allergy groupings that can affect dogs, how common they really are, and what specific issues to look out for. Read on to learn more.

Identifying allergies in dogs

There are probably as many dogs out there suffering to some extent with an undiagnosed allergy as there are dogs with a recognised problem, and the symptoms of allergies and the tangible effect that they will have on the dog in question can be very variable.

While some allergies will present with clear, unambiguous symptoms in many dogs, which will often give strong direction when it comes to finding the cause-such as if your dog suffers from bouts of sneezing and red, runny eyes on days when the pollen count is very high, which is very likely to indicate hayfever or a pollen allergy-others can be much more challenging.

Dry, tight or irritated skin can be indicative of allergies in your dog, but unless this comes accompanied by visible symptoms such as dandruff, hot spots or obsessive scratching and grooming, such symptoms at a low level will often be very hard to identify, let alone diagnose.

Additionally, the symptoms presented by any given dog will not necessarily provide clear direction to the cause-skin problems and inflammation, rashes and irritation may indicate a contact allergy, but may just as easily be the manifestation of a food allergy in another dog.

Allergies may be present in affected dogs from an early age, but they may also develop at any point during the dog’s life-this can make diagnosis even more challenging, if an older dog begins to exhibit a sensitivity to something later in life that never previously affected them.

What are the most common allergies in dogs, and what percentage of dogs may be affected?

The majority of allergies that affect dogs fall into one of just a small number of groups, and so looking at these in the first instance is a good place to start when it comes to getting to the bottom of things.

Fleabite sensitivity

The most common allergy that presents in dogs as a whole is actually fleabite sensitivity-an allergy that often develops later in life, and that causes an acute albeit usually localised reaction in the area of a flea bite. It takes time for a dog’s sensitivity to fleabites to develop, which is why such an allergy is more likely to present later in life than it is in younger dogs-and additionally, there are several different compounds present in flea saliva, any one of which can potentially trigger the allergic reaction.

In dogs over the age of around seven, statistical estimates indicate that over 35% of all dogs are sensitive to flea bites and localised reactions, although the vast majority of these cases are unlikely to be diagnosed, as they may not have a significant or systemic effect on the dog’s health and behaviour.

Ensuring that your dog is kept flea-free and that you are vigilant about maintaining an effective flea treatment protocol throughout their life can virtually eliminate the chances of your dog developing a flea bite allergy, and so this type of allergy is theoretically almost entirely preventable.

Skin allergies

Allergies that occur due to direct skin contact with a triggering substance are the next most common canine allergy grouping, with around 12-15% of all dogs suffering from an atopic allergy of some type. Again, how severely this presents in any given dog will be highly variable, and so mild and occasional reactions can easily go undiagnosed.

However, certain breeds of dog including the West Highland White Terrier and the English Bulldog are much more prone to suffering from skin conditions and allergies than other breeds, and so owners of dogs of these types should be particularly vigilant.

Food allergies

Food allergies affect around 10% of the canine population to some degree, with serious allergies and food intolerances having an acute and very noticeable effect on your dog’s health. If your dog regularly suffers from diarrhoea, digestive discomfort and associated symptoms, or non-digestive symptoms including respiratory problems and skin problems that tend to vary depending on what your dog has eaten, they may be suffering from a food allergy or intolerance.

Grains and bulking agents such as wheat are perhaps the best-known allergens when it comes to canine food allergies, but any other ingredient may be a potential allergen too-including preservatives, colourants and additives and even different types of meat and fish.

Inhalant allergies

Inhalant allergies affect 5-8% of the canine population, and are triggered by agents such as pollen, dust or mould spores. Inhalant allergies tend to present with respiratory symptoms and those that affect the nose and throat, including sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, noisy or laboured breathing and exercise intolerance.

Canine asthma too can be an allergenic condition, and allergies that affect the respiratory tract in any way should be taken seriously, and properly managed to keep your dog healthy and comfortable.

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