Allergies and Atopy
Mac, our West Highland White Terrier has skin problems. He constantly licks his paws which now are a dark orange color. Can you tell us what has happened and how we can help Mac?
Saliva from the constant licking will discolor light hair. The licking may be caused by a wound or, in Mac’s case, most likely by a skin allergy. The condition, called atopy, is a common genetically-based pruritic dermatitis which affects dogs. They become sensitized primarily to inhaled antigens in the environment such as dust, pollen, dander or other irritants. The situation can be complicated if more than one allergen is involved. The second culprit often is allergy to flea bites.
These allergy problems can be passed from dog to dog through generations of one canine family. Mac’s breed as well as Cairn Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Dalmatians, Schnauzers, Pugs and Irish setters suffer from atopy more frequently than some other breeds.
An antigen usually is inhaled through the respiratory system but can be absorbed through the skin or digestive tract. A chemical reaction then takes place just under the skin. In severe cases this reaction can cause such an intense itching sensation that the dog will constantly scratch or bite at himself until he has seriously damaged his skin. Some dogs will have fiery red skin on the abdomen, back or other parts of their body. Also, they may itch and scratch so intensely at one spot that they literally mutilate a section of skin; this is called a “hot spot”.
In milder cases, dogs react like Mac. They usually lick their front paws or use them to rub their face. Their symptoms can become more severe during periods when they are exposed to the antigens to which they are most sensitive.
The first signs of atopy commonly show up when dogs are 1-3 years old. A veterinarian should confirm the diagnosis.
Systemic glucocorticoids usually are very effective for managing atopy. Prednisone, administered by mouth according to a veterinarian’s schedule, should produce satisfactory results. The safest long-term regimen is a low dose every other day. Other allergy medications can provide some relief in certain animals.
You also have another route for treatment. You can have Mac go through a hyposensitization program. He will be tested to determine what he is allergic to, then given injections of small amounts of the actual antigens under the skin.
I know you hate to see Mac suffer. With this information you should be able to give Mac relief -- and give yourself peace of mind.