Contact allergies in dogs
This summer I have seen a large number of dogs presenting to the clinic with very itchy bellys, groins, underarms, legs and paws. Any itchy dog that presents to the clinic I get suspicious of a large range of possible potential skin problems ranging from mites to allergies to bacterial/fungal infections and more.
Dogs presenting with itching and dermatitis (skin inflammation) in the above regions however, very commonly have an allergy to something they come in contact with either at home or on walks. Dogs quite commonly develop allergies to plants and grasses as well as sometimes to bedding and floring. These allergies are typically termed contact allergies and seem to be even more common at this time of year with long grass and pollens about.
If you have noticed your dog licking at his paws, scooting his belly along the carpet or itching/nibbling his underarms or belly, and this always seems to be more common in certain months (particularly spring/summer), then there is a high chance this could be due to a contact allergy. We also sometimes see small red bumps pop up (papules), thickening of the skin and with time blackening of the skin. Typically these symptoms appear within 24 - 48 hours of coming into contact with the offending allergen.
Thankfully the symptoms brought on by contact allergies can be avoided avoiding certain areas that are likely to cause problems! Fields with long grasses are a major source for flare ups, but it does depend on what it is exactly that your dog is allergic to. Avoiding areas with long grass, using a good medicated shampoo (such as Ketochlor or Malaseb) and seeing your Vet as needed for antiinflammatory and antibiotic treatments, this problem can be quite easily controlled. We can also get a more exact idea of what it is your dog is allergic to now thanks to intradermal testing or blood testing. Most Veterinary clinics around the world now have access to blood testing to find out the plants and grasses your dog is allergic to. From this a 'desensitizing' vaccine can be made. This is then given ongoing to help control the allergy.
Ultimately - we always need to remember that allergies are MANAGED not cured. With care, regularly checking of your dog and quick treatment as soon as dermatitis is spotted however, it is very rare for contact allergy problems to get out of control. The first step in the process is identifying a contact allergy and differentiating from the huge range of other possible causes for canine dermatitis.
If you are suspecting that your dog has a contact allergy, why not contact your Vet for a consult and if he or she agrees this could be the case, then a blood test might well be a very good idea!