According to the medical records, Ike was an English Setter. English Setters typically have a long and luxurious coat and are truly beautiful creatures. Ike, on the other hand, looked like a mangy Muppet.
His owner came in every few months and declined every workup we offered, taking only the minimum amount of prednisone and antibiotics needed to get him through his current crisis. As a senior dog, I knew the toll both the medication and unrelenting itching outbreaks were having on Ike’s body, but my hands were tied.
By the time a dog reaches his golden years, allergies have usually made themselves apparent. But sometimes they surprise you — an 11-year-old dog with a sudden reaction to chicken, for example, or a dog who never had a problem with fleas before is suddenly terribly allergic. More often than not, the dogs have had these problems for years, but only in their old age does it finally get bad enough for their owners to seek veterinary attention.
Dogs experience three types of allergies: fleas, food and the environment. They may have a problem with one, two or all three. As a dog ages, he is exposed to more and more potential allergens, and as the body becomes less robust, a senior dog may be more prone to allergy outbreaks and the common concurrent skin infections.
In the dog, allergies almost always express themselves as a skin problem. This can mean itchiness, redness, crustiness, hair loss or a thickening of the skin. Dogs may also have respiratory signs or a runny nose, though these symptoms are less common in dogs than they are in people.
Senior Dogs And Environmental Dog Allergies
Environmental allergies, or atopy, is the most common canine allergy. Most dogs are diagnosed by 6 years of age, though a senior dog may also develop signs. What a pet is allergic to is usually related to your geographic location, so allergy test kits are often specially designed for different geographic regions. Most of the time atopy is diagnosed by a careful history and examination by the veterinarian, though follow-up skin or blood testing may also be helpful.
Atopy is controlled through a variety of methods, usually antihistamines, allergy shots, immunosuppressants or corticosteroids. Apoquel is a newer drug for the treatment of atopy that should be available soon. Owners should be aware that atopy is a chronic, lifelong disease and most dogs require ongoing treatment.
Senior Dogs And Flea Allergies
Some dogs have the misfortune to be allergic to fleabites, becoming unbearably uncomfortable from as small a trigger as a single flea bite. For reasons we don’t quite understand, most dogs with flea allergies seem to be most itchy over their tail base and the back of their thighs.
The good news about flea allergies is that dogs are very responsive once the fleas are removed. A combination of topical therapies, oral medications and environmental control usually eliminates fleas and solves the problem.
Senior Dogs And Food Allergies
Lastly, food could be the culprit. As food allergies can pop up at any point in a dog’s life, it’s not unheard of for a dog who has eaten the exact same chicken and rice food for 13 years to suddenly have an allergic reaction to it. Proteins such as dairy, chicken and beef are most often to blame, but any ingredient could be a potential problem.
Food allergies are diagnosed by an elimination diet, period. In order to do a food trial, a dog needs to spend 10 to 12 weeks eating nothing but a hypoallergenic food, one that contains a “novel” protein and carbohydrate source. Most of the time this comes in the form of unusual meats, such rabbit, duck and venison, along with and a carbohydrate source like green peas. If the dog improves on the new food and worsens when you try to re-introduce the old food, you have your answer.
Other Problems That Come With Dog Allergies
In addition to diagnosing the cause of the allergic reaction, a visit to the veterinarian is necessary to address any secondary infections of the skin, which are very common in dogs with allergies. Bacteria and yeast thrive on sore skin, making a bad situation even worse. Between the toes, in skin folds and in the ears are some of the places we often find infections.
In Ike’s case, the owner finally realized she was unable to give Ike the care he needed and we were able to find him a new home through an English Setter rescue. A month later, his new owner sent me a picture. “Where’s Ike?” I asked. All I could see was a bunch of beautiful Setters.
“In the middle,” she said. I would never have recognized him. As it turns out, Ike was white with a sprinkling of red spots — fur this time, not inflamed skin.
Your senior dog has given you a lifetime of love. Make sure you reward him with a comfortable retirement. Itching is no fun. If you suspect your dog has a dog allergy, don’t put off getting him checked out. He’ll love you for it.