Itchy Dogs: Allergy Management

Did you know that animals can have allergies too? They can – and with the arrival of summer, we’ve seen a surge in allergic dogs. Most commonly, dogs have environmental allergies, also known as atopic dermatitis or atopy. Food allergies and flea allergy dermatitis can also occur.

Atopy is due to a hypersensitivity or overwhelming immune response to normally harmless substances. Examples of potential environmental allergens include pollens, dust, house dust mites, or molds. With food allergies, the hypersensitivity is usually in response to the protein source (i.e. chicken, beef, or pork) and not the grains or carbohydrates. Patients with flea allergy dermatitis are overly sensitive to flea bites.

Allergies can develop at any time during a dog’s life, but most commonly clinical signs develop between 1 to 3 years of age. While environmental allergies typically cause respiratory signs in humans, animals usually develop skin conditions. They will be extremely itchy and may lick, scratch, and chew at the affected areas until they cause self-trauma and secondary infections. Ear infections, anal gland infections, and bacterial skin infections are common complications in dogs with allergies.

Unfortunately, allergies cannot be cured and will require life-long management for most pets. There are many treatment options to help manage allergic symptoms including antihistamines, supplements, immune-modulating medications, topical therapies and even acupuncture or herbal therapy. Many pets will require a combination of treatments to help manage their allergies successfully. Some patients require treatment only during certain seasons, while others require year round therapy.


Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), hydroxyzine, or chlorpheniramine are a common first line therapy to decrease mild inflammation and itchiness. They are generally well tolerated, though in some cases can cause drowsiness.


Most allergic patients will benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation (fish oils). Omega-3 fatty acids serve to decrease inflammation by inhibiting the inflammatory cascade in the body. We carry a veterinary product called Welactin in the form of capsules and liquid formulations. It provides easy, accurate dosing for dogs.

Redonyl Ultra is a soft chew supplement with the naturally occurring lipid compound PEA (palmitoylethanolamide) as its active ingredient. PEA is naturally produced in the body in response to tissue injury and works to stabilize mast cells, an immune cell that releases histamine and inflammatory substances.

Immunosuppressant or Immune-Modulating Medications

Traditionally, steroids have been used for many allergy cases to rapidly reduce inflammation. However, steroids have numerous short-term and long-term side effects, so their use has declined as safer options have been developed. In some cases, we may still decide to use a short course of steroids.

Apoquel is an immune-modulating medication designed specifically to treat itchiness in canine skin allergies. Whereas traditional steroids work by suppressing the entire immune system, Apoquel focuses specifically on the molecules involved in inflammation and the itch response. Side effects may include mild gastrointestinal upset during initial use. Long-term use of this medication may affect organ and immune system health, and clinical monitoring is recommended to ensure safe use.

Cytopoint is an injection that contains a high concentration of antibodies that effectively block molecules involved in the itch response. This injection does not treat the allergy, but rather prevents itching and scratching. Side effects are considered extremely rare since the antibodies found in this injection are cleared from the system in the same manner by which naturally occurring antibodies are eliminated. This injection should provide relief for 4 to 6 weeks in most pets, though some dogs may require a secondary medication for maximal effects.

Atopica or cyclosporine may be chosen for certain patients. It is an immunosuppressive medication approved for the management of allergies. With the addition of Apoquel to our toolbox, Atopica is used less frequently.

Topical Therapies

Secondary skin infections are common with underlying allergies. In many cases, we will also recommend topical therapies such as antibacterial/antifungal shampoos, wipes, sprays, or mousse. These products can be helpful to not only physically remove allergens but also to prevent or treat secondary skin infections.

Integrative Therapies

Acupuncture involves the insertion of small, thin, sterile needles into specific points in the body to cause a therapeutic change to occur. Research shows that these points are located in areas with a high density of free nerve endings, mast cells/immune cells, small blood vessels, and lymphatic vessels. Stimulation of these points leads to a cascade of changes in the body including an increase in blood flow to the area, an increase in local immune response, and release of beta-endorphins, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters to reduce pain. Acupuncture can help these patients by reducing inflammation, heat, and itchiness. Herbal therapies such as External Wind or Damp Heat Skin may also be used to manage itching or secondary bacterial infections.


For those patients that have year-round symptoms or those that do not improve with our initial therapies, we may recommend a food trial with a hydrolyzed protein diet. A hydrolyzed protein is a protein broken down into its component amino acids so that it is small enough to evade the immune response. When performing a food trial, it is essential that the diet is fed exclusively for 8 to 12 weeks. It is also important to understand that even dogs with food allergies may also have environmental allergies and thus require additional therapies.

Patients with atopy may still benefit from a prescription diet. Royal Canin Skin Support or Hill’s Derm Defense are formulated to support the skin’s natural barrier, decrease itchiness, and reduce the risks of secondary infections.

It is important to note that other skin conditions, such as bacterial infections, parasites, fungal infections, and autoimmune diseases, can clinically resemble allergies. If we are not seeing an improvement with our initial therapies, we may recommend additional diagnostics to search for these causes. Lastly, if your dog has year round allergies, severe allergies, or allergies that are not responding well to the therapies above, we would recommend allergy testing with a dermatologist.

Allergies can indeed be difficult and frustrating, but they can be controlled with some diligence, patience, and willingness to explore a variety of therapeutic options. Specific instructions regarding your pet’s treatment should be discussed in detail with your veterinarian. If you have questions about your pet, please call us at (651) 645-2808 to schedule an appointment.

This article was written by Jessica Lewis, DVM

Employee Spotlight: Allison Gedstad

Each month, we will spotlight one of our team members in order of years of service at St. Francis Animal Hospital.

Allison began working as a Veterinary Assistant at St. Francis Animal Hospital in 2012 following her junior year at Roseville Area High School. She graduated in 2017 from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Global Studies (BA) and minors in Animal Science and Biology. She is currently pursuing her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree at the University of Minnesota (Class of 2022).

Allison has enjoyed learning about veterinary medicine and loves working with the animals every day at the clinic. Outside of work, she spends her free time running, reading, traveling, fostering dogs, and of course, playing with her new puppy, Foxy.

Why do you love being a veterinary assistant?

Aside from getting to spend time with animals every day, my favorite part of being a Veterinary Assistant is that each day I work is an educational experience for me. I'm in veterinary school at the University of Minnesota, so working with and learning from the doctors and staff at this practice have given me valuable skills and insight into the veterinary field that I know I’ll be using in the future.

Why do you love working at St. Francis Animal Hospital?

St Francis does an excellent job in customer service. I know this not only because I’m an employee at this practice, but also because my Mom and I started bringing my late dog, Roxy, to St Francis when I was nine years old. They always treated Roxy and us with care, and took their time with every visit. I’ve been to other veterinary practices with Roxy and the customer service was never even close to what we received at St Francis.

Anxiety: Thunderstorms or Fireworks

Does your dog shake when it starts to thunder? Does he hide when it begins to rain? Does she destroy the furniture when she's left alone during a thunderstorm? If you've answered yes, your dog may have a thunderstorm phobia. Fireworks can cause the same response – and July 4th is right around the corner.

If your pet has thunderstorm phobias or anxiety associated with fireworks, please talk to us - - we can help! Thundershirts, herbal calming supplements (Composure or Solliquin), calming collars (Adaptil collar or NurtureCALM), or anti-anxiety medications such as trazodone, alprazolam, or Sileo are great options for your pet.

Trazodone tends to be our first option for managing these patients, but Sileo may be a good option for more severely affected dogs. Sileo is a gel containing dexmedetomidine that is absorbed through the gums. It is an FDA-approved treatment for noise aversion. For most dogs, it calms without causing excessive sedation, though as with any medication, it is important to monitor closely for adverse effects with use. It should be administered 30-60 minutes prior to the event and can be redosed every 2 hours up to five times.

If we prescribe Sileo for your dog, it is very important that you understand how to dose it appropriately.

Please discuss proper use of the dosing syringe and locking mechanism with the staff to avoid accidental overdose. Click here to learn more about Sileo and to watch a video on proper administration.

Note: Sileo is not for everyone and should not be used in dogs with cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver disease or respiratory disease. Some dogs experience significant sedation with this medication.

Please contact us at (651) 645-2808 if your pet suffers from anxiety associated with fireworks or thunderstorms. Fireworks are only two weeks away!

News Briefs

Boarding and Vaccines

Are you planning to board your pet for the Fourth of July weekend or your summer vacation? Now is the perfect time to check your pet's vaccine records to verify they are up-to-date on your boarding kennel's required vaccines and parasite control. If your pet needs their vaccines updated, plan to do so 2-3 weeks prior to boarding.

Congratulations & Happy Anniversary!

Congratulations to both Dr. Kevin Roeser and Dr. Katie Cartledge for celebrating their Ten Year Anniversary from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Congratulations to Dr. Jessica Lewis for celebrating her One Year Anniversary as a veterinarian at St Francis. We are fortunate to have such amazing veterinarians!

Welcome Becky Day!

We would like you to welcome our new Client Service Representative, Becky Day. Becky will be starting on Tuesday June 18th. You’ll find her at the front desk answering phones, listening to voice mails, and saying hello when you walk through the door. After 24 years as a client, we are excited to have her join the St Francis team on the other side of the desk!