Allergic Dermatitis: The NEW #1 Reason Dogs Visit Vets, and How to Treat It at Home

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Story at-a-glance

  • In 2012, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) policyholders spent over $58 million treating the 10 most common health conditions in pets. The number one reason dogs visited the vet was for allergic dermatitis (allergies). The average cost of a vet visit for an allergic dog was $96.
  • The number two reason for canine vet visits in 2012 was otitis externa (inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal); hot spots came in at number three.
  • Dogs with allergic dermatitis should be transitioned to an anti-inflammatory diet, provided with appropriate supplements, given frequent foot soaks and baths, and their indoor environment should be kept as allergen-free as possible.
  • The best way to help dogs with frequent bouts of otitis externa is to keep the ears free of wax and debris, which for some pets may mean daily cleaning.
  • Dogs that suffer hot spots need to have their wounds carefully and thoroughly treated, and the root cause of the hot spots must be identified and resolved.

By Dr. Becker

In 2012, the health issue that brought the greatest number of dog owners to the vet's office was atopic or allergic dermatitis. According to Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), for the first time in five years, allergies knocked otitis externa (inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal) out of first place.

VPI policyholders spent over $58 million last year treating the 10 most common health problems in their pets. The average amount spent for a vet visit for an allergic dog was $96.

The costliest canine condition treated in 2012 was osteoarthritis, which ran an average of $258 per appointment.

Top 10 Canine Medical Conditions in 2012

1.  Atopic or allergic dermatitis
2.  Otitis externa (ear inflammation)
3.  Pyoderma/hot spot
4.  Benign neoplasia
5.  Gastropathy (stomach disease)
6.  Osteoarthritis
7.  Enteropathy (intestinal disease)
8.  Cystitis or urinary tract infection
9.  Periodontitis/dental disease
10.  Soft tissue trauma

Tips for Treating the Top 3 Canine Health Conditions

Allergic Dermatitis

A dog with allergies should be switched to an anti-inflammatory diet, which means a diet that is very low in grain content and without potatoes. Beneficial additions to the diet include omega-3 fatty acids in conjunction with coconut oil to decrease inflammation and yeast growth throughout the body.

Helpful supplements for allergic dogs include quercetin together with bromelain and papain, diffused eucalyptus oil, and local honey.

Avoid unnecessary vaccines and veterinary drugs, and definitely don't allow a dog with allergies to be vaccinated during a flare-up.

Use foot soaks, body rinses and frequent baths to control build-up of allergens on your pet's coat and skin. Avoid shampoos with grains, including oatmeal shampoo.

Vacuum carpets and clean hard floors regularly; wash pet bedding often; use non-toxic cleaners around the house; and consider investing in an air purifier to remove allergens from your dog's indoor living space.

For more information on helping allergic pets, please read "Allergic Dermatitis: The #1 Sign Your Pet Has Allergies - And What to Do About It."

Otitis Externa (Inflammation of the Ear)

If your dog has a tendency to have problems with her ears, I recommend checking them daily or every other day at a minimum. Wax or other debris left in your dog's ear canal is the foundation for infection.

The goal is to clean your pet's ears whenever they're dirty. That may mean they need to be cleaned every day, or less often if they don't produce much wax and other crud.

If you think your dog might already have an ear infection, it's important to have your vet check him out before you begin a cleaning regimen. Infections often lead to ruptured eardrums, in which case special cleaners and medications are required.

For taking care of healthy canine ears, my favorite cleaning agents include witch hazel, organic <a href=" ">apple cider vinegar mixed with purified water (equal parts), hydrogen peroxide, green tea infusion (using cooled tea), or tea tree oil heavily diluted with purified water (do not use for cats).

Never use rubbing alcohol! It can cause burning and irritation, especially if there's inflammation.

You can use a cotton swab to clean the outside ear area, but never use them inside the ear canal. Use cotton balls instead, since they cannot be inserted too far into the ear. Cotton swabs can damage our pet's eardrums, whereas cotton balls won't.

The best way to clean the ear canal is to saturate the cotton ball with your cleaning solution and repeatedly swab out the inside of the ear, until you see no residue on the cotton ball.

Taking care of your pet's years isn't difficult! Just a few simple steps to keep his ears clean and dry will go far in preventing otitis externa and other ear conditions.

For more information on taking care of your pet's ear, please read "Must-Know Tips to Keep Your Pet's Ears Healthy."

Hot Spots

If your dog develops a hot spot, you'll need to do two things – treat the wound, and identify the underlying cause.

In preparing to treat a hot spot, you'll need to remove the hair on, in and around the affected area. If you don't remove the hair, it will become trapped in the wound by the pus and you'll have a much harder time healing the hot spot. Also, hair in and around the affected area can create a perfect environment for the wound to get bigger and the infection to get worse.

I recommend you shave the area of the hot spot, and then mark the edges of the lesion with a Sharpie type pen so you can tell if the infection is expanding. If the infection appears to be spreading, you know you're not treating it effectively at home and you should get your pup to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Some hot spots can result in fever and serious underlying skin problems, so if you see the wound growing rather than improving after a couple of days, it's time to seek veterinary care.

Once you've shaved the area and identified the margins, clip the hair back until you see healthy skin. Then you can begin gently disinfecting the wound with a solution that will remove bacteria.

I recommend using povidone iodine, which is often sold by the brand name Betadine. It's an organic iodine with has no side effects and does a good job controlling most skin bacteria. Dilute the solution with purified water until it's the color of iced tea. Apply it to the wound using a soft washcloth or gauze.

In the beginning, while there's a lot of oozing from the wound, you'll want to repeat the disinfecting procedure as often as necessary to keep the area clean, dry and pus free.

Your goal in managing your pup's hot spot is to keep the area clean and dry at all times, so the first couple days you might need to disinfect the wound as often as every two hours.

Depending on the severity of the infection and the amount of pus the wound is producing, disinfecting two times a day should be an absolute minimum. Remember – a consistently clean and dry wound is critical to healing the infection.

After you clean the wound, you can apply a topical solution like colloidal silver, or raw aloe, or a thin layer of manuka honey, which is a raw honey made from the tea tree plant. You can also use a cool chamomile tea bag against the wound to provide a soothing effect.

Don't use anything with stinging or astringent properties on an open, raw wound. Solutions like vinegar or tea tree oil, while anti-microbial, are really painful when applied to an open, raw wound, so I don't recommend you use those types of aggressive solutions when you are treating an infected hot spot.

Repeat the disinfecting procedure and application of a light, natural topical soothing gel afterwards until the wound shrinks in size, the infection clears and your pet is no longer bothered by the hot spot.

Finally, insuring your pet leaves the hot spot alone is critical to healing. You'll probably need to put an E collar on her to prevent her from licking and biting the affected skin.

If your dog continues to re-traumatize the wound, the infection won't clear up and the hot spot will get bigger.

As an alternative to the E collar, you might be able to manage the wound by applying a light wrap or putting a t-shirt on your pet, as long as you are sure she is leaving the wound alone.

For information on how to identify the root cause of your dog's hot spots, please read "How to Care for Your Dog's Painful Inflamed Skin Sores."


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