Friday 19 February 2010

How Do You Know When Your Dog Is Allergic?

For most of us, they are irreplaceable companions. Some animal lovers care for and treat their faithful family mascot with the same tenderness a parent has for a child. And except for abusive owners (shame!), all of us care deeply about our pet’s health.

So when a puppy is suffering, we are naturally concerned. When man’s best friend is injured or falls ill, we know that it is our responsibility to find the cause and help however we can. Some of us will rush to the vet, fearing the worst, while hoping for the best. Other, less involved humans may miss the signs entirely, leaving the poor pet in misery, or assume that a passing cold or insect is to blame.

In fact, dogs in particular are vulnerable to a wide range of environmental irritants. Dog allergies are at the root of a great deal of the habitual scratching, fidgeting, sneezing, and rubbing that many of us are accustomed to seeing in our canine buddies.

The reality is that, no matter how common, these behaviors are not normal; they are often a response to an allergen. Like humans, our pets develop an inappropriate immune response to particular substances, which leads to uncomfortable symptoms. Knowing and removing the source of the allergic reaction is key to ensuring the maximum enjoyment of what is, after all, a dog’s life.

As in humans, the symptoms of dog allergies can range from the mildly unpleasant to the medically grave, depending on the substance involved. A serious enough reaction can be dangerous.

If you know a human with a peanut allergy, you can understand how severe this could be. The insidious threat of a food allergy is that the kittle bowl is often the last place you might search for a culprit. After all, it’s dog food! How could a dog be allergic to it?

Nevertheless, if your pet presents with digestive trouble, loose stools, and has trouble keeping down the doggie treats, the likeliest culprit is that big 50-pund bag you lugged home from the pet store. Commercial dog foods often contain a hodgepodge of grains and meats, and many pets are at least mildly allergic to an ingredient in their standard fare.

Detecting this can be a bit of a chore, however, as more often than not, a single component of the formula is behind the problem. Switching to a simple blend may very well improve matters, or at least help isolate the irritant. Similarly, anti-flea formulas often cause a skin reaction that brings on the scratching you were hoping to prevent. Selecting an organic product instead may make a world of difference.

In addition to dietary allergens, dogs are vulnerable to airborne particles of dust, mold, and pollen…as well as, ironically enough, human hair. Some spring cleaning should take care of at least some of these, though the last case may be a true heartbreaker, as your pet surely loves you even if you’re making him sneeze, but may have to give you up for health reasons. Hopefully, you won’t have to go to the pound.