by Audrey Harvey, DVM
Just like people, dogs can suffer from contact allergies, where they react to something that touches their skin. The initial allergic reaction in the skin doesn’t last long, but it lasts long enough to cause severe itching. Dogs with contact allergy often do their skin more harm with their constant scratching.
The most frequent cause of contact allergies in dogs is a plant species called Wandering Jew, a member of the Spiderwort family. However, dogs have also been known to be allergic to grass, carpet cleaning products and timber stains.
Contact allergy isn’t very common, and it can be difficult to diagnose. It relies on you and your vet looking at your dog’s recent activities, and working out that his skin inflammation regularly occurs after being exposed to a particular plant, or after you’ve cleaned your carpets.
These allergies also tend to affect the parts of his body that have less hair cover, so that can be a giveaway. You’ll notice reddening on his belly and on his chest, and possibly on his feet.
If you suspect your dog has a contact allergy, you can have him allergy tested. This is a very specialized procedure, and it’s a good idea to have it done by a board certified veterinary dermatologist. For testing to occur, your dog’s skin needs to be in good health so he may need to live with a friend or family member until the inflammation settles. When he’s looking good, your vet will tape a piece of the suspect plant or some of the suspect carpet cleaner to your dog’s skin for 48 hours, and watch for a reaction.
Although diagnosing contact allergy isn’t easy, it can be very straightforward to manage. The best way to treat this type of allergy is to prevent your dog having access to the plant or chemical he is reacting to. You may need to do some landscaping and remove any offending plant species. You may need to use a different carpet cleaner, or send your dog on a short vacation with friends when it’s time to shampoo your rugs.
If that’s not possible, for example if your dog has an allergy to grass, consider using a pair of booties when you take him for a walk, so his feet don’t come in contact with the grass. Some companies also make protective body suits for dogs to keep them from rubbing against plants that will make them itch. Some dogs will need occasional medication to keep them comfortable if they should accidentally come in contact with an allergen.
You can do your part at home to keep your dog’s itchy skin in good health. Comfy Dog shampoo will gently soothe skin inflammation without drying his coat. Fur Butter is the perfect conditioner for itchy skin and can be rubbed well into his coat after rinsing. Both Comfy Dog and Fur Butter contain colloidal oatmeal which has been proven to reduce skin reddening and relieve itching. Should your dog have a specific itchy area, such as on his belly, keep Itchin’ for Relief within reach. Its handy nozzle allows you to treat that itchy spot without wetting the surrounding skin and hair. Herbal extracts and neem oil soothe irritated skin and ease inflammation, while any secondary infection is kept in check by Grapefruit seed extract.
Audrey Harvey is a veterinarian who has worked in small animal practice for 20 years, and has been involved in teaching and competing in dog obedience and agility. She is passionate about preventative health care in dogs, particularly obesity management and the prevention of boredom related behavioral problems. Audrey lives in Brisbane Australia, and shares her couch with an Australian Cattle Dog, an Australian Working Kelpie and two Whippets.