Stem Cell Study Aims to Heal Your Dog’s Allergies

Few canine conditions are as frustrating as dog skin allergies. Environmental allergies are particularly challenging, as in many cases the only effective treatment is steroids, which are associated with adverse side effects when used long term to treat your dog’s allergies.

A new collaborative study conducted by Santa Ana, California-based VetCell Therapeutics, a division of PrimeGen Biotech, and Western University of Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, California, will explore the use of mesenchymal stem cells to treat canine atopic dermatitis (allergic skin disease). The hope is that this stem cell therapy will be a viable alternative to long-term steroids and other medical treatments.

Thumbnail: Photography ©R.Tsubin | Getty Images.

Jackie Brown is a freelance writer from Southern California who specializes in the pet industry. Reach her at

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!

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What Are Environmental Allergies in Dogs And How Do You Treat Them?

Environmental allergies are more common in dogs than in cats and typically occur between ages 1 and 3. The reactions occur when a dog’s immune system is especially sensitive to a substance, even a common one. Dogs with environmental allergies are usually genetically predisposed to these chronic conditions. Additionally, certain breeds are more prone to environmental dog allergies than others: Retrievers, Terriers, Boxers, Dalmatians, Bulldogs, Shepherds, Beagles and Irish Setters.

A fluffy dog out for a walk. Photography by Eudyptula/Thinkstock.

Since dogs are often outside, it’s hard to avoid common allergens. Photography by Eudyptula/Thinkstock.

The Most Common Environmental Allergies in Dogs

The most common environmental allergens that affect dogs are:

  1. Pollen (which can travel up to 100 miles)
  2. Mold spores
  3. Dust mites
  4. Animal dander

Some of these irritants are seasonal and are more aggressive during certain times of the year. Many of us humans are familiar with the aggravating effects of seasonal allergies. They’re no fun for us or our dogs. Because dogs spend a fair amount of time outdoors, it’s nearly impossible to avoid contact with some of the offenders.

Symptoms of Environmental Allergies in Dogs — Atopic Dermatitis or Atopy in Dogs

As a dog’s body tries to reject the offending allergens, bothersome symptoms occur. The most common symptoms are skin-related ones and are a result of atopic dermatitis (atopy), which is skin inflammation and extreme itchiness due to allergens. As a dog becomes uncomfortable from the symptoms, he may try to relieve them by excessive chewing, biting and licking. These self-soothing methods could create hair loss or open wounds that may become infected if left untreated.

The areas on a dog’s body that are typically affected by Atopy are:

  1. Flanks
  2. Wrists
  3. Ears
  4. Groins
  5. Underarms
  6. Between the toes
  7. Area around the eyes (itchy or runny)

Treatments for Environmental Allergies in Dogs

If your dog is exhibiting atopic dermatitis symptoms, it’s important to consult your veterinarian. During an exam, the health professionals will review your dog’s complete medical history and discuss symptoms with you. If environmental allergies are suspected, the vet may recommend a course of action:

  • Intradermal allergy testing on a dog is similar to the test performed on humans. Small amounts of common allergens are injected under the skin, and the veterinarian looks for an allergic response to one or more of them. Once the allergen is determined, hyposensitization therapy might be the next step. This involves regularly giving the dog small injections of the allergen to desensitize the immune system. The therapy could take six months to a year to work, and research has shown that it is only 60 to 70 percent effective in dogs.
  • Your vet may recommend antihistamines or corticosteroids to help reduce itching and discomfort. Over-the-counter sprays or creams are also available to lessen the itchy symptoms.

Management of Environmental Allergies in Dogs

Because atopy is a chronic condition, you’ll need to manage it for the rest of your dog’s life. There are, however, some ways you can help him stay comfortable:

  • Schedule regular vet appointments as recommended by your health professional.
  • If pollen or grass is an allergen, use your air conditioner in the summer months.
  • Wash your dog every three to seven days with hypoallergenic shampoo or medicated shampoo.
  • Remove your dog from the room when you vacuum.
  • Change the furnace filter regularly.
  • When your dog comes inside from the outdoors, wipe his body to remove dust, pollen, weeds or grass.
  • Some vets recommend regular doses of Omega 3, which is a great supplement for skin and coat health. Ask your vet if it’s a good choice for your dog.

Environmental allergies in dogs are irritating and could result in pain and even infection. If you suspect your dog might be affected by environmental allergies, call your vet’s office for guidance.

Thumbnail: Photography by adogslifephoto/Thinkstock.

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How to Diagnose And Handle Dog Food Allergies

The most common canine allergies vets see are reactions to the saliva in flea bites or ones that develop from exposure to household items like scented candles or cleaning chemicals. Dog food allergies are not as common. When a dog does develop an allergy, it does not manifest as a human allergy would with sneezing or watery eyes. Instead, allergies in dogs are almost always written on the dog’s body.

Symptoms of allergies in dogs take external forms: ear infections, skin irritations, itching or rashes. As far as allergy relief for dogs goes, a dog’s only real options are to scratch, bite, chew or rub the affected areas. If a dog does develop a food allergy, and it goes unaddressed long enough, his reaction can eventually break skin, opening him up to secondary infections and making the original issue more difficult to diagnose and treat.

A hungry dog looking up from his food and water bowls.

What are the signs of dog food alleriges? Photography by damedeeso/Thinkstock.

Signs of dog food allergies.

Development is the key word here. Dog food allergies take time and regular exposure to a specific allergen in order to cause symptoms. While they can develop in puppies, for most dogs, allergies to foods can show up any time between 3 and 12 years of age. Since fur obscures much of their skin, it’s fortunate that the reddish or inflamed skin that signals dogs’ allergic reactions are in spots that are easy to see:

  1. Armpits
  2. Ears
  3. Face
  4. Genital area
  5. Toes

If your dog suddenly focuses on any of these areas, either with repetitive licking, biting, rubbing or scratching, these could be early signs of a food allergy. Vomiting or diarrhea can be signs of food allergies in dogs, but if you’ve switched your pup to a new food, it is much more likely that these are temporary reactions as your dog’s digestive system adjusts. Allergies do not manifest immediately, but over time and with repeated consumption of an allergen.

Proteins are the usual suspects of dog food allergies.

The most common dog food allergies are usually reactions to proteins in the foods they eat. Dog food allergies begin when a dog’s digestive system fails to fully break down or process proteins in the foods they eat and to absorb needed nutrients from them. With time, their bodies begin interpreting these indigestible proteins as diseases. Items that can cause food allergies in dogs include:

  1. Beef
  2. Chicken
  3. Venison
  4. Lamb
  5. Dairy products
  6. Eggs
  7. Corn
  8. Flax seed
  9. Rice
  10. Soy
  11. Wheat

Interestingly, meat is the culprit most of the time. Meat is more protein-rich than dairy, with any grain or vegetable a distant third. The staple grains in our list could be problematic if your dog’s diet consists solely of store-bought kibble. Grains like corn and rice tend to be major ingredients in most of the non-premium brands, whether for kibble integrity and cohesion or for nutritional value.  

Differences between dog food allergies and dog food intolerances.

There’s a distinct difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Something like lactose intolerance does not mean that your dog cannot digest or process milk or dairy products at all; rather, it means he can, but only to a very limited extent. Constipation or loose stools are more typical digestive reactions to food intolerances than to food allergies in dogs.

Diagnosis and treatment of dog food allergies.

Unless you’re personally preparing each of your dog’s meals and treats, a dog’s food allergy can be difficult to isolate on your own. If you believe your dog is experiencing the beginnings of a food allergy, your veterinarian has a range of approaches at her disposal. Blood tests, skin cultures and elimination trials can be tried individually or in concert to pinpoint the allergen that is affecting your dog.

Seeing these tests through to a definitive conclusion is not something that can be resolved in an afternoon, with a single visit to the vet or even over the course of a week. Often, whittling down the list of suspects to a definitive source can be a process lasting anywhere from one to three months.

If your dog does indeed have a food allergy, there’s a bit more wiggle room in what his digestive system can process and thrive on than there is, say, for a cat. Cats depend on proteins, especially those from meat, much more exclusively than dogs do. In cooperation with your vet or a dog dietary specialist, you can create a workable, non-allergenic diet for your dog and transition him onto it.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Chalabala | Thinkstock.

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