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THE MOST COMMON ALLERGIC DISEASES IN DOGS

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THE MOST COMMON ALLERGIC DISEASES IN DOGS

Abstract

Allergies affect not only people, but animals as well, including dogs. Allergic diseases are often observed in veterinary practice. There are many factors and substances in the environment around us that can cause allergic reactions. These are known as allergens. They may be of plant or animal origin, but may also be chemical compounds. Allergies in dogs have become a common topic of discussion in veterinary surgeries. Many dogs, purebred or of mixed breeds, are diagnosed for allergies. There are many reasons for the occurrence of allergies, from genetic predisposition to the environmental conditions in which the animal lives. Allergies in dogs are troublesome because when diagnosed too late or left untreated they can lead to serious health complications.
FOLIA POMERANAE UNIVERSITATIS TECHNOLOGIAE STETINENSIS
Folia Pomer. Univ. Technol. Stetin., Agric., Aliment., Pisc., Zootech. 2019, 348(49)1, 47–56
Review article
Marta DOPIERAŁA, Katarzyna ANDRASZEK
1
THE MOST COMMON ALLERGIC DISEASES IN DOGS
Department of Animal Genetics and Horse Breeding, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences
and Humanities, Poland
Abstract. Allergies affect not only people, but animals as well, including dogs. Allergic diseases
are often observed in veterinary practice. There are many factors and substances in the
environment around us that can cause allergic reactions. These are known as allergens. They
may be of plant or animal origin, but may also be chemical compounds. Allergies in dogs have
become a common topic of discussion in veterinary surgeries. Many dogs, purebred or of mixed
breeds, are diagnosed for allergies. There are many reasons for the occurrence of allergies,
from genetic predisposition to the environmental conditions in which the animal lives. Allergies
in dogs are troublesome because when diagnosed too late or left untreated they can lead to
serious health complications.
Key words: dog, allergy, allergen.
INTRODUCTION
Allergies affect not only people, but animals as well, including dogs. Allergic diseases are
often observed in veterinary practice. There are many factors and substances in the
environment around us that can cause allergic reactions. These are known as allergens.
They may be of plant or animal origin, but may also be chemical compounds. Depending on
the allergen and the body’s reaction, different types of allergies are distinguished.
An allergy is hypersensitivity with a basis in immune mechanisms. These mechanisms are
mediated by antibodies or inflammatory cells. This is the body’s immune response to foreign
substances, i.e. allergens. Specific antibodies are then produced and bind to the antigen,
leading to the production of mediators responsible for inflammation (Szczepanik et al. 2014;
Mueller et al. 2016).
In dogs, allergies are a troublesome disease, because when diagnosed too late or left
untreated they can lead to serious health complications. For example, allergic reactions that
cause itchy skin lesions may result in open wounds due to the dog’s constant scratching.
Therefore, it is important to consult a veterinarian about any worrying skin reactions in a dog
as soon as possible.
Discussion of allergies should also include atopy, which is a general term for the early
type allergic reaction, with mainly dermatological and respiratory symptoms. Atopy is
determined genetically and by breed. It is an abnormal immune response to allergens which
Corresponding author: Katarzyna Andraszek, Departament of Genetics and Horse Breeding, Siedlce
University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Bolesława Prusa 14, 08-110 Siedlce, Poland, e-mail:
katarzyna.andraszek@uph.edu.pl
DOI: 10.21005/AAPZ2019.49.1.05
48 M. Dopierała and K. Andraszek
causes the body to produce excessive amounts of IgE antibodies. It was previously thought
that the main routes of absorption of allergens were the airways, but the latest research
indicates that allergens penetrating the digestive tract or skin have a greater impact on the
body (Niemand 2015).
Four types of allergic reactions are most frequently identified:
A. Type I
This type of allergy is usually referred to as an early allergic reaction. The pathological
reaction occurs during the second contact with the antigen. The reaction is immediate or
occurs a few minutes after contact with a specific antigen. This pathological mechanism is
based on spontaneous degranulation of mast cells with IgE receptors on their surface, which
results in the release of granules. The substances released cause clinical symptoms.
Diseases included in this type of reaction include the following:
atopy,
flea allergy dermatitis,
food allergy,
drug intolerance.
B. Type II
In this type of allergic reaction, antibodies are produced that are directed against the
constituent parts of the cell or against the cell membranes. For this reason it is also called a
cytotoxic reaction. Factors such as viruses, bacteria or medications can cause an immune
response that takes the form of haemolytic anaemia.
C. Type III
This reaction involves antigen-antibody complexes, also called immune complexes. These
complexes occur naturally in the body, constantly forming and disintegrating, without causing
any clinical symptoms. Disorders occur as a result of systemic or local reactions. Two clinical
forms are distinguished:
arthus reactions, i.e. local tissue damage by immune complexes,
serum sickness, i.e. inflammatory lesions in the endothelium causing symptoms such as
endocarditis, arthritis, vasculitis or glomerulonephritis.
D. Type IV
This is known as delayed-type hypersensitivity. In contrast with the previous types, it is not
caused by antibodies but by sensitized T cells (T lymphocytes). It is referred to as ‘delayed’
because the reaction is manifested after 24–48 hours. This type includes the following:
contact allergy,
flea allergy,
reactions to parasite infection.
ATOPIC DERMATITIS
Atopic dermatitis is genetically-determined inflammation with pruritus. Lesions occurring in
specific places on the dog’s body are characteristic. This inflammation is very often
associated with allergies to environmental allergens, i.e. inhalant allergens, which are
present in the air (Hallwell 2006). Diagnosis of this disease cannot be made immediately
after questioning the dog’s owner about its medical history (De Boer and Hillier 2001). This is
The most common allergic diseases in dogs 49
due to the diversity of the clinical picture, which may depend on genetic factors, the extent of
the lesions, the stage of the disease (acute or chronic) and the presence of secondary
microbial infections or other symptoms (Wilhem et al. 2001; Nutall 2013). It is one of the most
common immune disorders and one of the most commonly clinically diagnosed diseases,
affecting about 10–15% of the canine population (Griffin et al. 2001). According to the latest
research, disorders can be detected in dogs with no apparent clinical manifestations of this
disease. It is currently believed that allergens mainly penetrate the body via the skin (Cork et
al. 2009; Marsella et al. 2012). A continuous reaction to allergens leads to the stimulation of
Th2 lymphocytes and the development of dermatitis (Kondo et al. 1998; Boralevi et al. 2008;
Szczepanik and Wilkołek 2012; Glatz et al. 2015). This results in impaired production and
breakdown of ceramides and other structural elements found in the epidermis (Cork et al.
2009; Marsella et al. 2012). Therefore, when discussing this disease, it is important to take
into account disorders of the epidermis, which facilitate access of allergens to the dog’s body.
The literature often mentions breed predispositions to atopic dermatitis. The susceptible
breeds are mainly golden retrievers, boxers, labradors and terriers, but the disease is also
found in other breeds of dogs, as well as mixed breeds. To establish that a dog is susceptible
to this disease, it is important to know its age. Symptoms of atopy should appear before the
third year of its life. This is closely linked to the genetic background of atopic dermatitis
(Niemand 2015; Mueller et al. 2016).
The main allergen of this disease is dust mites present in the environment. Dogs living
inside homes are said to be more vulnerable to atopic dermatitis caused by mites than dogs
living in kennels outside the house. This is due to the greater concentration of mites in the
bedroom and kitchen than outside the home. The main symptom of atopic dermatitis is
pruritus, located primarily on the head (eyes, lips and ears), on the feet (interdigital spaces),
and in the inguinal region. Dogs intensively lick and scratch the itchy spots, often leading to
various complications, such as bald spots, scabs or papules following purulent inflammations
of the skin. However, skin lesions may also be caused by other diseases, so the typical
location of skin lesions cannot be the only identifying symptom (Kucharski 2015). Diagnosis
of atopic dermatitis should be based on medical history, clinical symptoms and additional
tests to rule out other skin diseases that may have similar symptoms (Shaw et al. 2004;
Szczepanik et al. 2010a,b).
One of the most common complications of atopy is recurrent and chronic yeast dermatitis.
This inflammation causes excessive multiplication of yeasts Malassezia spp. Their
proliferation creates extensive skin inflammations together with erythema, pruritus and
lichenification (Wilkołek 2017).
To determine whether the symptoms are typical of atopic dermatitis, serological and
intradermal tests are initially discouraged in the initial stage of diagnosis, as they may give
false results. It is recommended to first rule out parasitic (internal and external) infections and
food allergies (Olirry et al. 2010; Niemand 2015). If the tests rule out these diseases and
atopic dermatitis is confirmed, then treatment can be begun. Local or systemic treatments
with appropriate anti-inflammatory drugs are used. If the skin lesions are recurrent or chronic,
allergy tests are recommended to identify the allergens, after which specific immunotherapy,
called desensitization, can be introduced. This disease can also be treated with appropriate
50 M. Dopierała and K. Andraszek
medications that are individually tailored to the dog. It is also important to use shampoo
therapy, with appropriate ingredients selected by a veterinary surgeon, as well as antipruritic
conditioners and ceramide replacement products (Jeronim 2014). In addition, studies show
that a diet containing polyunsaturated fatty acids can alleviate the symptoms of atopic
dermatitis, making it possible to reduce the dose of glucocorticoids (Saevic et al. 2004; Glos
et al. 2007). The effectiveness of dietary supplementation depends on the stage of the
disease. Dogs in the early stage of the disease respond better to diet (Abba et al. 2005). An
eight-week study conducted on 50 dogs with atopic dermatitis, testing the effectiveness of
four different diets, showed that dogs fed a fish diet had significantly less pruritus than those
fed other diets (Glos et al. 2007).
FOOD ALLERGY
Food allergy is one of the most commonly diagnosed allergic skin diseases in dogs
(Szczepanik et al. 2014; Mueller et al. 2016). There is a theory that in puppies, i.e. dogs
under one year of age, allergic reactions to food are more common than allergic reactions to
environmental allergens (Picco et al. 2008; Corlotti 2014). The cause of this allergy is the
development of immediate-type hypersensitivity, but it has been suggested that types III and
IV hypersensitivity may also be involved (Scott et al. 2001). Research indicates that neither
the age nor the sex of a dog is relevant to the occurrence of the disease. There are breeds
with a predisposition to this allergy, i.e. boxers, pugs, german shepherds, west highland white
terriers, and rhodesian ridgebacks, but the disease is also found in other breeds of dogs and
in mixed breeds.
Food allergies can be caused by a variety of substances, but are mainly caused by
glycoproteins found in products such as poultry, beef, soy, maize, cereals, cow milk, fish,
eggs, rice and potatoes (Martin et al. 2004; Day 2005; Ohmori et al. 2005; Verlinden et al.
2006). However, additional substances used in the production of food products and
commercial pet food are also suspected of being involved in the development of food
allergies (Córdowa Moreno and Trigo Tavera 1999; Kucharski 2011).
One of the main clinical symptoms of food allergy is severe pruritus, which is independent
of the time of year. Skin lesions can be observed in the form of pustules or papules and
erythema in the inguinal region and on the abdomen. Other symptoms are dermatitis,
inflammation of the outer ear, recurrent purulent dermatitis, eosinophilic vasculitis, urticaria,
and seborrhoea. Gastrointestinal symptoms are usually observed. Symptoms may be mild or
below the pruritic threshold, or isolated pruritic episodes may occur (Lewis 2017).
Distinguishing between food allergy and atopic dermatitis is quite problematic. There is
research showing that a clue in distinguishing between the two diseases is the dog’s reaction
to the administration of glucocorticosteroids, as these drugs are effective against atopic
dermatitis. If pruritus persists despite the medication, then the possibility of food allergy may
be considered (Lewis 2017). However, many doctors and scientists are uncertain about the
results of this research. Serological or intradermal tests do not produce reliable results,
because the breakdown and metabolic products of foodstuffs can also be sensitizing,
resulting in false results of these tests (Niemand 2015; Mueller et al. 2016).
The most common allergic diseases in dogs 51
The only valid and effective method of diagnosing food allergy is the use of an elimination
diet followed by a provocation test, using food that is suspected of causing the allergy
symptoms. This diet should include sources of protein, carbohydrates and fat that have
previously not been used. It can be based on horse meat, venison, lamb, turkey, duck or fish.
It is important that the diet should have a single source of protein. The dog should be
gradually accustomed to the change in food to avoid digestive complications (Jackson 2001;
Morariu et al. 2010). The new diet should be introduced over 3 to 5 days, and the elimination
diet itself should be used for 4 to 6 weeks, extended to 10–13 weeks if necessary
(Szczepanik et al. 2014). According to research, when an elimination diet was extended to
about 8 weeks, clinical symptoms disappeared in nearly all dogs tested (Mirowski 2014).
Once the clinical symptoms resolve, provocation tests can be introduced. These consist in
the addition to the elimination diet of a single ingredient that the dog had received in its
previous diet, before the start of the treatment. Clinical symptoms indicating an allergy to the
added ingredient will appear within 2 to 48 hours after ingestion. It is important to observe the
dog for about 2 weeks, because some forms of food allergy involve delayed-type reactions,
whose symptoms appear later (Wills et al. 1994). If there are no signs of sensitization by that
time, another ingredient used before the elimination diet may be added. In this way, after each
ingredient that the dog was fed before the elimination diet has been added, we have a list of
ingredients to which the dog is allergic and of those it can continue to eat (Jackson 2001).
It is important that the dog does not receive any treats, vitamin preparations, or antibiotics
in the form of tablets or capsules at any time during the entire treatment, so as not to distort
the results of the elimination diet. The elimination diet can be prepared at home, or
commercial hypoallergenic food can be used. There are two types of such food. One is
based on hydrolysed protein with a lower molecular weight, but it is less palatable to the dog.
The second type, made from a single source of protein, is more readily accepted by dogs.
However, research suggests that commercial pet foods are not always as ‘healthy’ as they
should be, because they often contain additional ingredients which may not be listed on the
label, and these may be additional allergens for the dog (Mueller et al. 2016; Lewis 2017).
After the allergens causing the reaction have been identified, the dog can be fed the food
used before the elimination diet, except for the allergenic ingredients. However, it should be
borne in mind that the diet without these allergenic ingredients may cease to be effective and
clinical symptoms of food allergy may reappear. This is because dogs may become allergic
to other food ingredients. Then the treatment based on the elimination diet should be
resumed (Szczepanik et al. 2014; Mueller et al. 2016).
ALLERGIES TO PARASITES AND BITING INSECTS
Some of the external parasites living on a dog can be seen with the naked eye. These are
primarily fleas, whose saliva components, specifically the proteins contained in it, can lead to
flea allergy dermatitis after the dog has been bitten. This disease develops due to Type I and
Type IV hypersensitivity to allergens found in flea saliva (Ready et al. 1997; Scott et al. 2001;
Griffin 2008). Clinical symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis appear seasonally from spring to
autumn, when these parasites multiply. The disease affects animals of all ages, irrespective
of sex or breed. There is a theory that puppies given flea protection too early are more
52 M. Dopierała and K. Andraszek
susceptible to this disease. This is because the young organism will not acquire immunity to
the antigens contained in flea saliva. For this reason, flea protection products should be used
at a later age.
Antigens contained in the secretions of fleas can cause severe allergic reactions. Four
stages of the reaction are distinguished (Taszkun and Śmiech 2006):
̶ pruritus – pruritus affecting the skin in the lumbar region, sacral region, abdomen, thighs,
and sometimes also the head,
̶ erythema and pruritus – pruritus as above with additional erythema,
̶ self-injury – secondary lesions following pruritus, oozing purulent skin damage,
̶ chronic disease resulting from the allergy – lichenification of the skin.
Flea allergy dermatitis is diagnosed by means of intradermal tests using flea antigen and
skin biopsy. The histopathological picture of the skin sample varies depending on the stage
of the disease. The histopathological picture for the pruritus and erythema and pruritus
stages is the least characteristic for flea allergy dermatitis (Kramer and Mencke 2001). The
most reliable diagnosis of the disease is provided by an image of a skin sample on which
erythema and papules are visible (Taszkun and Śmiech 2006).
The best means of preventing the allergic reactions of flea allergy dermatitis is appropriate
prophylaxis, which consists in using anti-flea preparations in the form of spot-on drops or
special shampoos, sprays or collars. It is important to use anti-flea prevention regularly
throughout the year, and not only in the spring and autumn. This increases the chance of
controlling an infestation of fleas in the dog’s environment. It is also worth noting that fleas
are intermediate hosts of tapeworms, so regular prevention of their occurrence also reduces
the occurrence of internal parasites in animals (Niemand 2015; Mueller et al. 2016).
Very similar consequences and clinical symptoms are observed in the case of allergy to
the venom of ticks, mosquitoes, flies, mites, wasps and bees. This disease usually occurs in
warm months, when insects become active and search for hosts. It is relatively difficult to
distinguish from other allergies. Intradermal tests with appropriate antigens are used for
diagnosis. Accurate identification of an allergen-carrying insect allows for appropriate prophylaxis,
e.g. spot-on preparations against ticks or mites (Niemand 2015; Mueller et al. 2016).
Insect stings usually result in urticaria, ulcerations, oedema and scabs. Generalized
reactions have not been recorded in dogs as a consequence of bites or stings. It is also
difficult to establish age and breed predispositions due to the rarity of this type of
complication following a sting (Prelaud 2008).
Tick bites usually cause erythematous reactions. Some individuals have granulomatous
reactions accompanied by pruritus. These reactions can become ulcerated or can spread to
larger areas of the body. Experiments have shown that following a tick bite on the dog’s body,
an immediate-type hypersensitivity reaction develops (Prelaud 2008).
In the case of ticks, prophylactic use of a repellent collar, tablets or spot-on preparations is
recommended, but no effective repellent against flies or mosquitoes has been devised.
CONTACT ALLERGY
Another immune-mediated disease is allergic contact dermatitis. This is a type IV
hypersensitivity allergy (Szczepanik et al. 2010a, b; Szczepanik and Wilkołek 2012; Niemand
2015). It accounts for only 10% of dermatological disorders (Thomsen and Thomsen 1989).
This disease is caused by direct skin contact with environmental substances. After repeated
The most common allergic diseases in dogs 53
contact, allergens lead to sensitization of T lymphocytes (Niemand 2015). The time interval
between the allergen’s contact with the skin and an allergic reaction ranges from 12 to 72
hours. The manifestation of clinical symptoms is preceded by an induction phase, which can
last from 6 months to even 2 years (Marsella et al. 1997).
Research has not shown any gender predisposition to this disease. It more frequently
affects adult dogs and the breeds German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Poodle, Fox Terrier,
Scottish Terrier, and West Highland White Terrier (Gross et al. 2005), but mixed breeds may
suffer from it as well. Allergens causing this disease include the following (Szczepanik et al.
2010a, b; Szczepanik and Wilkołek 2012; Niemand 2015):
̶ plants: camellia, chrysanthemum, primrose, dahlia, dandelion, pine and other conifers, ivy,
Liliidae, spiderwort, amaryllis, cedar;
̶ medicines: streptomycin, neomycin, gentamicin, spectinomycin, chlorhexidine, glucocorticoids,
Balsam of Peru, benzoyl peroxide;
̶ metals: nickel and chromium (in dog collars);
̶ others: herbicides, detergents, formaldehyde, rubber, disinfectants, synthetic fabrics,
shampoos, insecticides, terpene lactones, tea tree oil.
Clinical symptoms are most common in areas where the hair coat is thin, such as the
axillae, abdomen, groin, anal area, scrotum and the underside of the feet. If the dog has an
allergic reaction to medicines, it will be visible at the site of application, e.g. in the outer part
of the ear canal. The symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis include papules, erythema,
ulcerations, scabs and lichenification. A clear border can be seen between the healthy skin
and the skin with the allergic reaction. Bacterial infections, seborrheic dermatitis and
Malassezia infection may also accompany this disease (Mueller et al. 2016).
One of the problems in diagnosing allergic contact dermatitis is that the symptoms are
very similar to those of irritant contact dermatitis. The difference between these diseases is
that allergic dermatitis is an immune disease mediated by the body’s defence mechanisms,
whereas irritant contact dermatitis develops when the skin comes in contact with an irritant.
Damage occurs due to contact with a substance that has a toxic effect on the skin.
Unfortunately, the clinical symptoms of the two diseases are very similar and quite difficult to
distinguish. For this reason, tests diagnosing allergic contact dermatitis are not fully reliable,
since, according to researchers, the results may also be indicative of atopic dermatitis. Patch
tests can be used for diagnostic purposes. These tests involve placing patches saturated
with the test substance on the dog and then observing any skin changes that occur.
Unfortunately, the test is somewhat difficult to carry out, because the patches must remain on
the dog’s body for 48 hours. In a study in which these tests were carried out on a group of
dogs, in 83.3% of healthy dogs they had false positive results, i.e. the substances in the
patches had an effect indicating that they were allergic to these substances (Scott et al.
2001). One of the most effective means of diagnosing allergic contact dermatitis is the
provocation method. This involves separating the dog from its living environment for two
weeks and then bathing it with a special hypoallergenic shampoo to remove irritant particles.
After two weeks the animal is returned to its living environment. However, this method also
does not confirm this disease with complete certainty. Its results may also be indicative of
atopic dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis (Scott et al. 2001; Szczepanik et al. 2010a, b;
Szczepanik and Wilkołek 2012).
54 M. Dopierała and K. Andraszek
After the disease has been diagnosed, the most important step is to eliminate the
substance that irritates the dog’s body from the environment. It is also important to remove
the substance from the surface of the animal’s body by bathing it with hypoallergenic
shampoo. If it is not possible to remove the allergen from the environment, then gluco-
corticosteroids are administered to alleviate clinical symptoms (Szczepanik et al. 2010a, b;
Szczepanik and Wilkołek 2012).
There are a great many factors influencing the occurrence of allergies in dogs. However,
most studies confirm that the environment is the main determinant of tendencies for allergic
reactions in dogs. The main allergens causing concern to animal owners, not only in Poland
but around the world, are dust mites. Therefore, it is important that the dog should have
contact with various animals from its earliest moments of life and be kept in a suitable
environment that will strengthen the immune system, thereby reducing the tendency for
allergic reactions.
CONCLUSIONS
There are a great many factors influencing the occurrence of allergies in dogs. However,
most studies confirm that the environment is the main determinant of tendencies for allergic
reactions in dogs. The main allergens causing concern to animal owners, not only in Poland
but around the world, are dust mites. Therefore, it is important that the dog should have
contact with various animals from its earliest moments of life and be kept in a suitable
environment that will strengthen the immune system, thereby reducing the tendency for
allergic reactions.
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NAJCZĘSTSZE CHOROBY ALERGICZNE U PSÓW
Streszczenie. Alergie, wbrew pozorom, to nie tylko dolegliwości dotykające ludzi, ale również
zwierzęta, np. psy. Choroby alergiczne są często obserwowane w praktyce weterynaryjnej.
W otaczającym nas środowisku istnieje wiele czynników i substancji, które mogą wywoływać
reakcje uczuleniowe; są to alergeny. Mogą one mieć pochodzenie roślinne bądź zwierzęce, ale
mogą być również związkami chemicznymi. Alergie u psów stały się stosunkowo częstym
tematem dyskusji podejmowanym w gabinetach weterynaryjnych. Wiele psów, bez względu na
to, czy są to psy rasowe czy nie, jest diagnozowanych w kierunku alergii. Powodów wystę-
powania alergii jest wiele – od predyspozycji genetycznych do warunków środowiskowych,
w jakich zwierzę funkcjonuje. Dla psów alergia jest dokuczliwą chorobą; późno zdiagnozowana
bądź nieleczona może doprowadzić do poważnych powikłań zdrowotnych.
Słowa kluczowe: pies, alergia, alergen.
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