Nancy Kerns: Hi! I am Nancy Kerns, Editor of the Whole Dog Journal. If your dog has been diagnosed with allergies, there are three major treatment approaches at your disposal; avoidance, symptomatic therapy and immunotherapy.
The first is avoidance. If you and your vet have been able to determine which antigens are triggering your dog's allergies, you can do your best to prevent or reduce your dog's exposure to them even if the allergen is something as prevalent as dust.
For example, for a dog who is allergic to house dust, you'd want to wipe his coat with a damp cloth several times a day, provide clean bedding so he doesn't sleep on the floor or dusty rugs and vacuum frequently, preferably with a HEPA filter.
The second treatment approach is symptomatic therapy, treating the dog's symptoms. Anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines, and corticosteroids all counteract some of the inflammation summoned by the hypersensitive response.
Of the three types of drugs, corticosteroids are the most effective at reducing inflammation, but they also pose higher risks to the dog if overused. Some antidepressant medications have also proven to be helpful by reducing the urge of some allergic dogs to engage in self-mutilation. Fatty acid supplements have emerged as safe and incredibly beneficial for allergic dogs.
Be aware however, that by taking this approach alone without encompassing the other two treatment approaches is like fighting an oil rig fire without cutting off the flow of oil, it could go on indefinitely.
The third approach immunotherapy is better known as allergy shots. If you and your veterinarian feel confident that you have identified the substances your dog is allergic to, allergy shots may be the very best treatment.
Allergy shots consist of a course of injections of a saline solution. A tiny dose of a substance that the patient is allergic to is added to the saline solution. Generally, the shots are given once or twice a week for months with a dose increased slightly each time until an effective dose is reached.
The injections of the tiny dose help the dog's body become accustomed to the substance. In the best case scenario, after months of the shots the dog no longer reacts to the substance when he encounters it in the environment. The majority of patients who receive immunotherapy improve. Some actually completely recover from the hypersensitivity for life.
However, the costs in terms of time and money are considerable, but it's worth every penny to the owners of dogs who had the most severe allergies and who responded very positively to the therapy.