With regard to prescribed medications, the treatments most often used are antihistamines and can control allergies in up to 30% of dogs. Again, if used in conjunction with Fatty Acids, this percentage rises dramatically. It may also be necessary to experiment with different antihistamines before the most effective one is found. The most familiar antihistamines on the market are: Diphenhydramine (trading name Benadryl), Hydroxyzine (trading as Atarax), Clemastine Fumarate (trading as Tavist) and Chlorpheniramine (trading as Chlor-Trimeton). There are a few side-effects dogs may experience when on anti-histamines, the most common being sedation, lethargy and a dry mouth. Diarrhea has only been noticed in dogs taking Chlor-Trimeton.
The “mainstay of treatment for canine atopy” is Immunotherapy or Hyposensitization. This treatment is usually prescribed in cases where Fatty Acid supplements and antihistamines do not work and symptoms have been present for 4-6 months of the year. To determine whether this treatment will be effective for your dog and to determine allergens, he/she must undergo an intradermal skin test. When the allergens have been identified, the dog will receive a series of weekly or monthly injections that consists of altered allergens to desensitize your dog to the allergens affecting him and leave him symptom-free. The success rate for this treatment is approximately 80%.
A heavily debated treatment is the use of steroids. Steroids are, however, very effective in treating severe itching, inflammation, coughing and sneezing. The reason this treatment is so controversial is because it can have a lot of short- and long term side effects if it is not administered correctly. However, owners should not refuse this treatment if it is the only medicine that can effectively treat severe symptoms and relieve their dog’s suffering. People also often misunderstand the terms “steroids” in this context. They confuse the steroids being used to treat allergies, called costicosteroids, with anabolic steroids, which people use to become power houses (and which has a myriad of very negative side-effects).
Steroids can be administered in two forms. The first form is a tablet that can easily be customized for an individual treatment programme. Such a programme usually starts with a higher dosage that is gradually lowered until symptoms can be managed on the lowest possible dosage.
The second form of steroid treatment is an intramuscular injection and the effect can last from 1 week to 6 months, depending on the dosage and severity of the symptoms.
The side-effects of steroids mostly include weight gain (due to increased appetite), depression, hyperactivity, increased thirst, panting and diarrhea. If dogs need to use steroids for long periods, the side effects can become more serious and may include immunosuppression, diabetes mellitus, liver problems, adrenal suppression. Less severe side-effects with longer use include poor coat and skin quality and proneness to infection. Due to the extreme side-effects that can occur, steroids are usually the last option to be considered after all other options have been exhausted.
It is important to take the medicating of your dog seriously and get several expert opinions before you commit to a specific treatment, especially something as strong as steroids.
Your best friend always deserves your best!