Labrador allergies crop up a lot, with runny noses, sore eyes and dermatological problems the most frequent signs. The most common allergies in Labrador Retrievers are environmental. House dust, pollen, food ingredients, bacteria, inhalents or insect bites can provoke an allergic reaction.
Labs are extremely prone to allergies because their immune systems produce high quantities of immunoglobulin E (IgE), the protein that develops as a response to allergens. IgE triggers the release of histamines, chemicals that cause irritation and inflammation.
The five most common types of allergies are food allergies, flea allergies, contact allergies, inhalant allergies, and bacterial allergies. Most allergies are easily treated with antihistamines, but can often be avoided by removing the allergen from your dog’s home.
Labrador Food Allergies
Food allergies in Labrador Retrievers are caused by allergic reactions to common ingredients in dog food such as beef, corn, soy, fish, wheat, chicken, and chicken eggs. Veterinarians report that food allergies account for approximately 10% of allergy problems in dogs. Common symptoms include:
- itchy skin (often around the muzzle or face)
- hair loss
- ear infections
- frequent bowel movements
- and skin infections.
Antihistamines and occasionally antibiotics can be used to help dogs with extreme food allergies. But if your Lab has a food allergy, the symptoms will return when the treatment is stopped. Because they’re still being exposed to the allergen causing the symptoms.
The best way to prevent repeated food allergies is to feed your Lab a diet that doesn’t contain the ingredient they’re allergic to. Elimination diets with limited ingredients work well for most dogs with food allergies.
Most common dog food brands on the market offer hypoallergenic formulas. These recipes are free of some of the most common allergens we talked about earlier: corn, soy, beef, chicken, chicken eggs, fish, and wheat. They might also contain “novel ingredients” like pheasant or buffalo. Which dogs won’t typically have been exposed to before and might be less allergic to.
You can also consider feeding a raw diet consisting of unprocessed meats and veggies. Whichever method you choose, change your Lab’s diet gradually to avoid stomach upset.
Flea Allergies in Dogs
Flea allergies, or FAD (flea allergy dermatitis) are the most common allergies in Labrador Retrievers. FAD occurs when a flea bites an animal, injecting its saliva into the skin. Your dog will most likely be susceptible to FAD during the summer months. Because fleas thrive best in warm temperatures with humidity.
Early warning signs of FAD include itchy, irritated skin. You’ll probably notice your Lab scratching quite a lot and possibly biting the affected area. This in turn causes red, inflamed patches of skin called hot spots. Flea bites occur most often on the back and at the base of the tail. In severe cases, you might notice hair loss, oozing, or dark, crusty skin.
The easiest way to prevent flea allergies in Labrador Retrievers is to groom your dog regularly, and apply a flea preventative (such as Frontline) during flea season. If your Lab does develop an allergic reaction to a flea bite, there are several methods of killing fleas instantly. Make sure to remove all traces of fleas both from him and from your home. Sweep floors and furniture thoroughly, spray your carpets with flea spray*, and consider fogging your house.
Sometimes your Lab can develop a yeast infection as a result of a flea bite. In which case you might notice an unpleasant odor. Vets will often prescribe antibiotics and a short course of prednisone to relieve his itchy skin. Taking preventative measures, however, and regularly observing your dog for early warning signs during flea season, can help to mitigate the problem.
Canine Contact Allergies
Contact allergies occur when your Lab develops an allergic reaction to noxious or irritating substances in the environment. These can include dyes, carpet deodorizers, or antibiotics applied to the skin. Rubber, wool, certain metals (like nickel), poison ivy sap, and salt on the road can also cause allergic reactions.
The allergic reaction usually develops on areas of the skin with little or no hair. Such as the backs of the paws, the muzzle, and the lower abdomen. These areas of the skin are most likely to come into direct contact with the irritant. You’ll likely notice that the affected area is very red, with small bumps or blisters.
In order to treat a contact allergy, your vet needs to use patch or exclusion tests to determine what allergen your Lab is reacting to.
Patch tests involve a small amount of the allergen being rubbed on the skin. In an exclusion trial, you’ll need to keep him in a non-carpeted area and keep him or her off the grass. If the condition improves, potential allergens will slowly be reintroduced one by one into the dog’s environment.
Inhalant Allergies in Labradors
Inhalant allergies (also called atopic allergies or atopy) are the second most common allergy in Labs after FAD. They are caused by an allergic reaction to airborne or inhaled allergens like mold, dust, or pollen. Simply put, think of atopy as the canine equivalent of hay fever in people.
Like FAD, inhalant allergies usually affect dogs during the spring and summer months. Atopic Labradors will develop very itchy skin and will usually bite and scratch themselves, often on the legs, face, ears, groin, and armpit areas. Red, irritated skin and hair loss are the most common warning signs as well as yeast infections in the skin and ears.
Your vet will likely perform one of two allergy tests on your dog to determine what is causing the allergic reaction. An intra-dermal or skin allergy test involves injecting a small amount of an allergen into his skin and watching for a reaction. The second test, the IgE allergy test, involves taking a blood sample from your Lab to test for IgE antibodies against specific airborne allergens. If a high number of IgE antibodies exist, this is usually a sign of an inhalant allergy.
There are several ways to treat inhalant allergies. Allergy shots involve a serum containing the allergen to which your dog reacts. Over time, the injections can desensitize them to the allergen, reducing the symptoms.
Your vet might also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs (such as corticosteroids or antihistamines) to relieve symptoms like itching and skin irritation. But it’s important to note that these drugs treat only the symptoms and not the allergy itself. You can also bathe your dog with hypoallergenic shampoo* to help relieve symptoms.
Bacterial allergies (also called pyoderma of the skin) usually occur as a secondary infection as a result of the above allergic reactions we’ve discussed. Since allergies often cause skin irritation and hair loss, your Lab can often develop lesions or inflamed pustules. For these, your vet will likely proscribe topical medications like ointments and sprays as well as a round of antibiotics.
If the infection is severe or doesn’t respond to these treatments, a skin biopsy or scraping might be performed. The vet will look for evidence that the infection is symptomatic of a more serious medical condition.
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